Fr James Bradley is a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which he serves as Communications Officer and Private Secretary to the Ordinary. He was received into the Catholic Church in 2011 and sang the gospel for Pope Benedict XVI at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Madrid that year. Find him on Twitter @frjamesbradley .
You might think it’s a predictable thing for me to say, but I believe that one of the most important contributions of Pope Benedict’s pontificate was the creation of the Personal Ordinariates, which allow Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church whilst maintaining many of their traditions and practices.
In October 2009, at about 11.00 a.m., the news came in that Pope Benedict had responded to numerous requests from Anglicans who wished to enter the Church as groups rather than simply on an individual basis.
I was still training for Anglican ministry when the news came through and I remember sitting at the computer hitting “Refresh” over and over again until the news appeared on the screen. From that moment I knew that I had to respond and that – in many respects – our bluff had been called! We’d asked for a way forward, and we’d been given one beyond our wildest expectations.
In November 2009 the document was produced but we all thought it would take two or three years to get things going, so we carried on with what we were doing – trying to faithfully follow the Lord in the best way we could – and waited in hope and prayer.
That following summer I started work in a parish in Kent. When the plans for the Pope’s visit to the UK were announced, we got together a group from the parish and headed down to Hyde Park for the Saturday night vigil. We hoped that showing our people the universal nature of the Catholic Church – all sorts of people united in the one faith of Jesus Christ through unity with the Pope – would help them see what it was we were trying to pursue.
It worked. One of our group leant over to me during that amazing time of adoration before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and said, quite simply, “We have to be part of this”. Of the twenty or so that came with us in the group to Hyde Park, only two decided to remain as Anglicans.
How did Pope Benedict achieve all this? Well, he seemed to understand us. He understood that we love the liturgy, and how that is the most significant way we come to know Jesus Christ. He understood that we had a real yearning for the unity of Christians, but had got weighed-down by the practicalities of making it happen. He understood that we had a heart for mission and evangelisation, and that we wanted to give ourselves wholly to the work of the Church in bringing these lands to the Lord. He understood all that, and he acted in the way that only Peter’s successor could. In his own words, he ‘could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realisation’. That is, surely, because the man is a true servant of Christ and Holy Church!
When I was received into the Church on Maundy Thursday 2011, I took the name Benedict as my confirmation name – and I wasn’t alone. So many of those in the Ordinariate chose Benedict or Joseph – not just to honour the saints with those names, but in recognition of what our Holy Father had done for us: running out to meet us, just like the father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
For me, though, the most wonderful moment was when I was asked to sing the gospel at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Madrid. Not only did this mean being with a million other young Catholics – which itself I will never forget – but it also meant being with our Holy Father and receiving his blessing. It will be something that remains with me until the day I die.
In all this, it’s easy to think that being part of Generation Benedict is like a cult surrounding the man, Benedict XVI, but it’s not – he’d hate that. We love him because we have seen through him the face of Jesus Christ. In our Holy Father we have been brought closer to the God whom he serves, and whom we seek to grow more and more like in our daily lives.
Pope Benedict has shown us how to pray the liturgy with true reverence and devotion, how to think as a Catholic Christian in a world which fails – or refuses – to understand us, and how to become friends with Jesus Christ, in order that we might know him more and more each day. For all that we thank him and raise our voices one last time to say: Esta es la juventud del Papa!