“The papal visit is the first bright spot for the Church in this part of the world for a very long time.”
(David Quinn of the Iona Institute on Twitter earlier today).
If you haven’t been following since he (the Pope – not David!) arrived in Scotland on Thursday or have only heard what Irish media in general were reporting here, you might be wondering if David is getting a little carried away.
But since Pope Benedict set foot in Edinburgh, there have been huge crowds of ordinary Catholics – and non-Catholics – packing out the venues and lining the streets, 125,000 in Edinburgh, 75,000 later at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow for Mass. There are 80,000 in Hyde Park and more out on the streets. But it’s not just the encouragement of seeing so many turn out despite the predictions. I’ve been tuned in to Sky News who are broadcasting the visit non-stop – and three things really make this ‘a bright spot for the Church’ and a real tonic for Catholics feeling a bit beaten down by recent events:
First there have been interviews all day long with ordinary Catholics who’ve travelled out with their families or friends – and over and over again they’ve been showing their enthusiasm for their faith and for the message that Pope Benedict is bringing.
Second the extended coverage has given viewers a real insight into the personality of our Pope – and far from being a distant academic, we see a warm, gentle man, really engaging with the people, listening, smiling, responding. Even the Sky interviewers have commented several times on the different view we are getting of the man who is Benedict XVI.
And third, there is the message itself and the positive response it is getting. Now instead of a message delivered second hand by a media who too often present their very own version of what he’s said, we’re hearing him speak directly – hearing the context, the combination of forceful truth and caring compassion: his invitation to youth to spend time in silent prayer every day:
Even amidst the business and stress of our daily lives we need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God. And in silence that we discover our true self.
– his reminder to the older people that he came to them as one of them – “not only as father but also as brother”, his strong reminder yesterday to the civil leaders of the UK that religion cannot to relegated to the private sphere as some would like. And I have to say, on Sky anyway, the presenters have really let his message go out: they’ve had positive and well-spoken Catholic commentators summarising and explaining his words, explaining elements of the Catholic faith. I even heard a Sky presenter say “The Mass is the celebration that binds all Catholics together, isn’t it?” !!
So – if you haven’t been following so far, there’s still time. The Prayer Vigil in Hyde park will be starting soon and tomorrow Cardinal John Newman will be beatified during Mass in Birmingham. If you don’t have Sky News, I’ve heard BBC News 24 are covering it, the official website is streaming it live and has transcripts of his speeches etc http://www.thepapalvisit.org.uk : and then there’s Facebook: friend or ‘like’ “The Papal Visit” or “Diocese Westminster” or Andrew O’Connell.
Our Irish correspondents are doing a great job on Twitter too (if you haven’t done it before, now’s the time to give it a try – it’s easy). I’d recommend Michael Kelly from The Irish Catholic twitter.com/MKellyIrishCath or David Quinn twitter.com/DavQuinn . Not Irish but very interesting too are The Catholic Herald twitter.com/catholicherald and Damian Thompson of The Telegraph twitter.com/holysmoke (just noticed Damian’s last tweet : Woman next to me in cafe says to husband: “All this hoo-hah before he arrived, but he’s had a very warm welcome.” Yes! )
Ok – no excuses now: tune in – you’ll be glad you did!