I met Mary on the footpath this morning, as we were walking from the coach park to Cofton Park. Originally from Kerala, South India, she came today with her parish, St Michael’s in Shepton Mallet. They left there at 4am, and she had been up since 2am. She was pushing her husband, Joseph, in a wheelchair. Another pilgrim noticed her struggling a bit when the path sloped and offered to help her push. After a while I took a turn, and ended up staying with them right into the wheelchair enclosure.
The rain was falling steadily by now and Mary said it was a blessing. I wondered at first what she meant, but then I realised that in her homeland that is exactly what rain is, a blessing from God. Of course this rain was nothing like monsoon rain. In fact, Mary told me, it doesn’t actually rain at all in England. She also said that the more we suffered on this pilgrimage, the greater would be the blessings we received. She was praying for a miracle to help her husband to walk again.
As we drew nearer to the entrance a queue formed. The ground was undulating and muddy and the temporary metal paths put down to get us across the bumps were still rather difficult to negotiate with a wheechair. An angel appeared in the form of a Policewoman who patiently explained to me how to sort out the brakes on this wheelchair, which was of a kind unfamiliar to me. She also guided us through a grassy area, recommending going backwards in order to stop slipping. I thanked her, and said how good it was that she had received wheelchair training. She said it was not her training, but her Mum, who uses a wheelchair, that had given her those skills. God has a way of putting people in the right place at the right time.
I must admit to feeling a little peeved that even using the wheelchair entrance we had to queue. The walking pilgrims were on the wheelchair path as well, and there was no way we got priority. As a veteran of Lourdes I felt things could have been better organised, but Mary reminded me that we need to suffer a little for our faith.
Once I had said my goodbyes to Mary and Joseph in the wheelchair enclosure I tried to make my way to the Media centre. This was easier said than done, and the first dozen or so stewards who I asked didn’t have a clue there was a media centre. My spirits sank for a while, as one of my shoes had started to leak and I wondered if I would ever find the wretched media centre. Fortunately I heard the familiar sound of Jo Boyce and Mike Stanley singing Bread of Life and I started to feel better. Even more uplifting was Jo singing her setting of the Magnificat.
Eventually after one or two false starts and diversions, I found the entrance gate which I should have entered, and, to my amazement, was someone I had met on a pilgrimage to Iona, four years ago. At last there was someone who could tell me where the Media centre was. The VAMPs (Vatican Accredited Media Persons) had not yet arrived, so there was still plenty of space for me to set up the laptop and get to work with my story.
Suddenly I noticed that the sun had come out, the Pope had landed, the choir were singing, and a faint rainbow could be seen over Crofton Park. My view of the Popemobile was the best I’ve had so far.
Church of God, elect and glorious,
holy nation, chosen race;
called as God’s own special people,
royal priests and heirs of grace;
know the purpose of your calling,
show to all his mighty deeds;
tell of love which knows no limits,
grace which meets all human needs.