Monday, 28 May 2007

Twenty Five Years ago - a Pope at the Cathedral

Today is a Bank Holiday, and (as usual) grey and very wet. But it is a day filled with memories, for twenty five years ago today Pope John Paul II visited Westminster Cathedral. It was the first (and only) visit by a reigning Pontiff to this country.

Those were, I remember, heady days. England was at war with Argentina, and the Papal visit was almost cancelled. It went ahead, but the Pope visited Argentina the following month. On the domestic front, Prince Charles had just announced his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer. At a personal level, I was sitting finals at University, and so could only follow the visit on television - although many friends made the journey from Cambridge up to Coventry to participate in the Papal Mass there.

The weather (unlike today) was glorious, and the visit was a great blessing upon the Catholic community of this country. Perhaps one of the most memorable events was the Holy Father's visit to Canterbury, where he knelt side by side with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the tomb of St Thomas a Becket - a vision of a unity which has yet to be accomplished. But for all those who recall those days, it was a thrilling and unbelievable occasion that will live forever in our memories. At Westminster, as the plaque at the foot of the sanctuary proudly records, the first Papal Mass was celebrated. I would be glad to hear from any of you who have memories of that day!


Anonymous said...

Why would Prince Charles announce his engagement to Lady Diana when they'd already been married for nearly a year?

Anonymous said...

[Not necessarily for publication]

I remember this day. My parents had come over to Scotland, where I was attending university, and we were driving through the Highlands as we listened to the Mass from Westminster. My Anglican parents were amused by the Newman hymns being sung, but my recollection of the liturgy was that it was moving, solemn and well done.

Later, the day after the Holy Father celebrated Mass in Glasgow, we were on Skye. I noticed a copy of that day's West Highland Free Press on the table. "You'll ne'e find mention of the Pope in there" suggested the Hotel's owner, "well, maybe on the inside pages." Sure enough, on about page 10, was a short article along the lines of "Pope John Paul II visited Glasgow today and celebrated mass in Bellahouston Park." It did not quite say 'several Roman Catholics attended', but it was pretty close!