I walked from my home to the 6pm Mass at the Carmelites in Kensington. There was a little over an hour to go before I would give a talk on Pope Benedict. In my head I was ‘swotting up’ on Benedict XVI’s biography. In 1939 he entered the Seminary…yes by our modern standards that’s incredibly young, but our Pope did not have an idealised, romantic view of the priesthood, he had seen his parish priest get a beating from the Nazis before he offered Holy Mass. That pivotal period in our Pope’s life from the tender age of 12 to the time he was eighteen was in ways subject to the demands of the Nazi beast…When he was fourteen he was required by law to become a member of Hitler Youth. There were financial penalties for not joining Hitler Youth, and Pope Benedict who was from a modest middle-income family could not afford the fines. But on account of the intervention from a sympathetic maths teacher he was not required to attend Hitler Youth…
6pm Mass was offered for the intentions of the Holy Father. At the Offertory, I placed my intention with Our Lord that the talk would have a very fruitful meeting-of-minds and that many more people would become ecstatic about welcoming the Holy Father. I prayed this miracle prayer to Padre Pio, that has never failed me, and it didn’t tonight.
Fr. Matthew Blake gave an excellent sermon where he invited us to reflect on the importance of praying for our Pope. Fr. Matt explained that the Pope has been given special graces from God to fulfil his mission. And that ‘it’s not mere chance or an accident’ that our Pope is our Pope that his destiny on earth was to lead the 1.3 billion Roman Catholics in this present age.
After Mass, I gathered with my fellow parishioners in the conference room. I opened the talk with a notice from a 1920 German Catholic newspaper, ‘low level civil servant seeks good Catholic girl who can sew and cook a bit. To marry as soon as possible. Preferably with a picture. Personal fortune desirable but not a precondition.’ This was the notice that Pope Benedict’s father put in the paper and which attracted the attention of Maria Peintner, who was to become the mother of one of the greatest Popes of all time. My main theme was how the faith instilled in Benedict as a child, has stood to him all throughout his life, and linking his childhood with his great achievements as Pope. Then, I went into more depth about the many milestones of his pontificate. But also, tried to make real some details of our Pope’s life such as his love for nature and how as a Cardinal he fed stray cats in Rome, to the fact that he still has the stuffed toys that his mother made for him as a little boy. I included some detail on why he chose the name ‘Benedict’ (other than the fact that the name really suits him). To be fair, I did forget to mention that Pope Benedict has never learned to drive, but can fly a plane and has a licence to fly.
My talk was followed by a very engaging Forum where a variety of people put forward their questions on the Hyde Park prayer vigil. One key question concerned the ‘waiting around’ in the park before the Pope comes. I said that there will be a variety of stalls from a huge range of Catholic groups who will explain the faith, and the work they do to promote Catholic teaching. These stalls will be fascinating, and it will be a lovely opportunity to become better acquainted with the work done by Catholic organisations. I also included that pro-life groups will be there to speak on behalf of the unborn.
After wards, one lady asked me about provisions for the mentally and physically disabled at Hyde Park, such as special ramps. I confessed ignorance about the ramps but said that people with disabilities were most welcome. I explained that I have a brother with severe autism, and that much as he would enjoy parts of the Hyde Park prayer vigil, it wouldn’t really be suitable for him because the large crowds would make him too anxious and afraid.
The discussion came around to the protesters, and I assured my fellow parishioners that ‘we live in a civilised country and there are those who may talk big about protests, but if they get out of hand, the police will intervene. We can and must take heart in this. A few groups of so-called protesters want to patronise us about our beliefs, but if we stay joyful, our message will travel from our hearts to the heart of the nation.’
PS – I would like to thank Fr. Matt of the Carmelites for inviting me to give this talk. May I also extend many thanks to my good friend Margy, who did an excellent job getting the word out, and organising the delicious food. Truly, I would have been happy for Pope Benedict to sample the cuisine.