Welcome to our weekly update on Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK in September. In a change to the normal format, this week we’re speaking to one of our local co-ordinators. Fr Michael McAndrew is the Diocesan Papal Visit Co-ordinator for Clifton in the west of England.
You can listen to the audio by clicking on the MP3 player on this web page:
Fr Michael McAndrew: My name is Michael McAndrew and I’m a priest of the Diocese of Clifton. Our diocese covers the four counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Bristol and I’m Clifton’s Papal Visit Co-ordinator.
It’s two weeks since we received news of how our parish communities will be able to participate in the historic visit of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. There’s great excitement amongst our people because the number of Pilgrim Passes we’ve been allocated for the papal events has exceeded our expectations. We’ve been allocated 1,700 pilgrim passes for the Beatification Mass at Cofton Park in Birmingham on 19 September and more than 2,300 for the prayer vigil on 18 September at London’s Hyde Park.
That means, along with the education event and the youth day, more than 4,000 people from our diocese will be able to see and hear the Pope.
I have been in contact with all the parish priests of our diocese and there’s growing excitement about the visit. In the past two weeks, all 1,700 pilgrim passes have been accepted by parishes for the beatification in Birmingham and a third of our priests have said they’d like to be considered to concelebrate at that Mass. Thirty-five Pilgrim Leaders have offered themselves to lead each pilgrim group – that’s a really positive response.
I think there’s a growing awareness that the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman is a unique event that people really want to be a part of. It’s the first beatification that’s ever happened in England. It’s also the case that Pope Benedict doesn’t usually preside at beatifications – but he’s making an exception for us. He’s doing that because of his great, personal love and interest in John Henry Newman and also his appreciation of his writings and the huge influence that this great Englishman has had on the whole worldwide Church.
I think what is really capturing the imagination is that the Pope comes among us as a pilgrim. We are invited to take part in this event in the same spirit – we travel as pilgrims. Everyone who is going to take part in the public events is travelling, not as an individual, but as part of a pilgrim group. That reminds us that our journey of faith is lived in the communion of the Church.
The Mass of Beatification reminds us of two things: Firstly, it’s led by the Pope – that reminds us we belong to the Universal Church of which he is the leader. Secondly, we will be honouring Cardinal Newman and that reminds us that the Church isn’t just the Church on Earth, it’s the Church that stretches into eternal life – into Heaven. He is part of the Church and we are part of him.
On the Saturday evening, 18 September, we have the Prayer Vigil in Hyde Park – our diocese has 2,300 passes for that. Most parishes have selected their pilgrim leaders for that event or are in the process of gathering groups together. Again there’s great excitement and it promises to be, for us, a moment of profound Christian witness.
The event begins with a procession of 3,000 people – led by young people – but also people from all the parishes and organisations. Banners will be carried through central London offering a visible witness of the Catholic communities in our country.
During the afternoon there will be various liturgies and presentations. These aim to show the Catholic contribution to the common good of our society – all that the Catholic Church contributes towards the wellbeing of society both in the UK and throughout the world.
The Pope will be present in the early evening and is expected to preach and lead us in prayer. Pope Benedict has a great gift for breaking open the Word of God and teaching the Gospel in a very simple and profound way. That’s something people are looking forward to very much.
This Prayer Vigil will have two aspects that we will be able to see and hear. We will see, in the procession and in the gathering of all those people, the visible expression of the diversity and vibrancy of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. We will also be able to hear the Word of God preached by our Holy Father Pope Benedict.
Pope Benedict is not coming to the Diocese of Clifton but it seems to me Clifton will go to see him and hear him and we are preparing very enthusiastically to welcome Pope Benedict to our land.
Attending Papal Visit events: