Patrick Ward writes…
I was eight years old when Pope John Paul II visited the UK back in 1982.
I remember it well. Me and my family went to Speke Airport in Liverpool to see him. It was a big day out: up at the crack of dawn, picnic packed, excited about seeing JPII whizz past in the Popemobile.
We saw him really clearly. After all, we had claimed our prime spot on the side of the road many hours earlier. Someone in our family even got a good Polaroid of his back.
John Paul II spoke to the crowd at the airport. I didn’t really take in what he said but that didn’t matter; not to me anyway. It was the experience that resonated. It was a good day, a happy day, (perhaps matched only by a similar scenario four years later when Liverpool FC paraded the FA and League Cup on an open-top bus not far from that exact same spot where I saw the Pope).
Twenty-eight years later, I’ve got a ticket to attend the Beatification Mass in Cofton Park in Birmingham next week. I’ll be travelling from London with my parish. This time round, the dawn won’t have even cracked when we leave in the morning. But that’s not the only change. It is, by all accounts, going to be a very different experience.
We now have Pope Benedict, of course, a different personality to JPII. This is a state visit, the first of its kind, so that brings a rather different itinerary. And we’re different, as a nation, and as a Catholic population. The last 25 years or so have had a great impact on our collective psyche and confidence.
None of that will matter to my nine-year-old nephew who is also travelling to Birmingham for the Beatification Mass. He will be just a few months older than I was back in ’82. I hope that this journey, this pilgrimage, resonates with him like it did with me. I see no reason why it would not. In fact, I really want it to resonate with me too.
The theme of the visit is “Heart Speaks Unto Heart”. The Papal Visit website explains:
When Newman became a Cardinal in 1879, he had to choose a motto to go on his coat of arms. He chose the Latin words Cor ad Cor loquitur – heart speaks unto heart… Newman thought that true communication between us speaks from our heart to the heart of others around us – much more than just clever talking.
I like that. I’ve heard and read a lot of “clever talking” about this Papal Visit, usually negative. I am keen to put this aside and engage with the visit. I want to listen to the words of Pope Benedict with an open heart, understand more deeply the spiritual teachings of John Henry Newman and enjoy the opportunity to celebrate my faith with fellow Catholics in this country. I can do that, I think. It’s my choice.
Back to ’82, I’ve just read the speech that Pope John Paul II gave at Speke Airport, the one I waited for all day long, the one I didn’t really take much notice of. It’s on the Papal website here.
Liverpool at that time was suffering badly from the recession. I remember my Dad being caught up in strike after strike and constantly under the threat of redundancy. They were difficult times. Here is a little of what the Pope said:
Our times present us with many challenges and difficulties. One problem in particular which I would like to mention is unemployment. I know that you are experiencing this very seriously in Liverpool, and it is one of the major problems facing society as a whole…. It tends to sow seeds of bitterness, division and even violence. The young, unable to find a job, feel cheated of their dreams, while those who have lost their jobs feel rejected and useless. This tragedy affects every aspect of life, from the material and physical to the mental and spiritual… All these ills of society could bring us to disillusionment and even despair, if we were not a people of hope, if we did not have a deep and abiding confidence in the power and mercy of God.
Not much “clever talking” here. Pretty straight-talking, if you ask me. I wonder what my Dad thought of it? Heart speaking to heart? Perhaps.