Stuart Reid Charterhouse
Four out of five of us, according to a recent poll, have no interest in the Pope’s visit. In a way that is reassuring, since it rather confirms what we had suspected all along: that there is no popular hostility to the Pope in this country and that the haters are a fanatical minority of obsessive-compulsives. On the other hand, the same indifference may result in low turnouts for the “events”. Last week the Archdiocese of Westminster tried to make up the numbers at the Hyde Park vigil by pleading with headmasters to recruit school parties.
Such indifference as exists among Catholics, however, is not entirely the fault of the laity. I got my Pilgrim Pack last weekend, and pretty soon was wondered whether I’d be able get through the vigil without making a public nuisance of myself. Perhaps I should not have played the CD or read the leaflets that come with the pack, but I did both and ... oh, boy.
If I’d just left the stuff on my desk it would now be buried beneath the rest of the junk along with the bowel cancer testing kit that the nice people at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, sent me a few weeks ago. “The kit is simple to use in the privacy of your own home... all you need to do is complete the kit and return it to us in the Freepost envelope that will be provided.” You’d rather die, wouldn’t you? But would you rather go to the vigil? Tricky one.
There is no denying that the Pilgrim Pack puts the emphasis on grim. Damian Thompson has already taken the ripping knife to the organisers over their musical selection, and there is nothing I need (or can) add.
But there is more to this than music. I am as keen on political correctness as the next person – why not have a hymn in Swahili? – but aren’t there better things to do while waiting for the Servant of the Servants of God than to watch dance groups specialising in “heads-up confidence” and listen to folk singers from the mountains of southern Poland and to snack on food that will be prepared, terrifyingly, to satisfy “a wide variety of tastes”. You can almost smell the chilli sauce.
The nannying tone of the Pilgrim Pack is also a bit grating. We are reminded, for example, to bring “medication as needed for the duration of your stay away from home (please plan on being on site longer than expected)” – OK, Co-dydramol, beta-blockers, Amitriptyline, Valium (never leave home without it), maybe some senna tablets – but “there are a number of things that you should not bring with you as they could pose a threat to you or others”. Like what? Alcohol and whistles. Bother. Nothing is said about smoking, however.
For many of us, in other words, the vigil will not translate into nine hours of spiritual uplift and good cheer. But so what? The Pope will celebrate Benedic tion when the young people have finished their stuff and there will be solace in singing the Tantum Ergo with him. Really, though, the point of turning up is to pay homage to the Pope, to show our loyalty to a man whose courage and intellect, moderation and gentleness, are, humanly speaking, the greatest asset the Church has.
The Pope is hated by a lot of clever people, and by showbiz celebrities. No one will ever call him Good Pope Benedict. The Pope will continue to be denounced (sometimes even by Catholics) for his “cruel policies” on gay sex, condoms and abortion, and mocked for his warnings against pre-emptive war and unbridled capitalism. To some on the Left he is a fascist; to some on the Right he is a liberal.
It’s absurd. The Pope is a Catholic. He has no “policies” of his own. He is not a politician. He is the Vicar of Christ and his job is to protect and project Catholic doctrine. Where Peter is, there is the Church. That’s what we believe, and we ought to try next week to be where Benedict is.
As of Tuesday, there were still tickets available for the Hyde Park vigil. If there are none left in your parish, try a neighbouring parish. Just say no to your fastidiousness loathing of the “New” Church and to smarmy liturgical happenings and, if you live in London or close by, get yourself to Hyde Park next Saturday. If you can’t buy a ticket, get yourself down to the Mall and wave your little plastic papal flag as Benedict XVI passes by in his Popemobile. Be there or be square.
Maybe we should allow ourselves a moment or two of optimism as we await the Pope. The news is not all bad. Even the BBC, in spite of its notorious Left-liberal bias, is taking the visit seriously, and devoting 12 and a half hours to it. This has so irritated the secular humanist community that the National Secular Society is calling the Corporation “the Pope’s propaganda arm”. Poor old Aunty, she can’t do anything right these days.
The thing many of us are most looking forward to is the Pope’s socking it to our MPs, courteously and gently, in Westminster Hall next Friday. The sight of our moral guardians nodding gravely as they listen to the Pope addressing them on, as it might be, fraudulent equality legislation and moral relativism will be something to treasure.
No doubt there will there will be recrimination when the visit is over, but one may hope that the bitching and bickering – and slander – of recent weeks will die away. Some internet polemicists have been behaving as though the whole world, including many of our bishops, is engaged in a plot against them personally, and the Catholic Church in general. What feels very much like a victim culture has emerged in some quarters.
We are not victims; we are not to be pitied; we are not a minority uncertain of our own identity. On the contrary. We are British Catholics, and we are to be envied. The history of this nation is our history. Let’s leave the whining to people with something to whine about.