I still vividly remember turning on the television in a student flat in Manchester and seeing white smoke coming out of a chimney. So much for all the revision I was going to do that afternoon! As a “Catholic”, surely I should follow this until completion! I didn’t realise it at the time, but the decision made by the Cardinals that day would have a massive effect on my life. I didn’t know much about Cardinal Ratzinger, but the fact that a German had been appointed made the subsequent trip to Cologne for World Youth Day seem take a different twist and, indeed, I’ll never forget being outside Cologne Cathedral when the “popemobile” arrived. Literally, this 78 year old man flung open the door and sprinted to the top of the steps where we were gathered below. He looked as excited to see us as we were to see him. An incredible moment!
Whilst Cologne was the real “kick start” to my Catholic life, my most relevant papal experience happened much closer to home, 5 years later at the Papal Visit. I was then training at Leeds University and was rapidly learning how much many in the education system despised the Catholic school system (RE sessions were often little more than an attack on Catholic schools – being a student teacher is difficult enough anyway!). The Holy Father had a few comments on the matter, and to be honest, they might as well have been made directly to me.
“A good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become Saints” (The Big Assembly). Bang. There you have it. That’s my vocation. Help children become Saints.
“To all the dedicated men and women who devote their lives to teaching the young, I want to express sentiments of deep appreciation.” (Address to Teachers). You’re Welcome!
“As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full” (Address to Teachers). That’s a head teacher I want to work for!
So, that’s Friday. Two amazing talks. Now to Saturday. This was what I was really excited about! I was going to represent my Diocese in the procession at Hyde Park, whilst some of my friends were going to get the chance to actually meet Pope Benedict at Westminister! The Leeds party left at a ridiculous hour of the morning, with no grumbles, just anticipation.
Throughout the day the excitement grew, as we kept meeting large groups of like-minded UK Catholics at various places in London. The procession was awesome – I was 6th in line. The Pope was last, about 1000th. Thousands of people in Hyde Park were making more noise than any concert I’ve ever been to there. The video screens showed the Pope’s journey. The Mall, 10 deep! They said nobody would come out to see him! It was just building and building and building.
But then, silence. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed at the Vigil. How on Earth could those same people be that quiet? You could actually hear a pin drop. The Holy Father made his address;
Christ has need of families to remind the world of the dignity of human love and the beauty of family life. He needs men and women who devote their lives to the noble task of education, tending the young and forming them in the ways of the Gospel. He needs those who will consecrate their lives to the pursuit of perfect charity, following him in chastity, poverty and obedience, and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters. He needs the powerful love of contemplative religious, who sustain the Church’s witness and activity through their constant prayer. And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep
Hyde Park Vigil
I mean, WOW! He’s put right up there with priests, religious, families and even martyrs! This was a real reaffirmation of my desire to be a teacher, especially in a Catholic school. Thank You, Holy Father!