13 September 2010

“Let’s just go for it”… who said we aren’t excited about the Papal visit?

For the past 4 days, I’ve been mulling over how best to deliver Fr. Chris’ wonderful messages through this blogpost, and only yesterday did it fit together in my mind. Too much media coverage has been released about the Catholics who don’t give a fig about the Pope’s visit. Yeah… fine… The Tablet says that of the 996 adults Ipsos MORI interviewed for the Papal Visit Poll, 117 of them were Catholic. Ok fine. But scroll down the document, and you find that nearly 20% of those Catholics think women are allowed to be priests in the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t know any of my Catholic friends (and I have a few!) who filled in that poll. But I mean… seriously… a Catholic that truly believes they can rock up to a Church this present day and find a woman priest concelebrating the Mass?

Why aren’t the media so interested in what we have to say? I watch all those interviews on a daily basis, where they’ve called Catholic Voices or Lord Patten or Archbishop Vincent Nichols into the limelight, but interrupt their interview disallowing the true voice of our Catholic nature to shine through. That limelight touches only the surface of Catholic skin, but the nature of our devotion, and profession of living out the Gospel message, along with describing that simple relationship with our leader Pope Benedict is eclipsed in an effort to rake in the ratings. The worst thing is, the media is such a powerful tool to influence opinions and actions of people who don’t actively seek answers to the questions themselves.

So I did a little investigating. I wanted to find out what Catholics are doing around the country to prepare for the visit so that through my own media tools could share that message on their behalf – and I found some truly enlightening stuff…

Fr. Chris Vipers of St. Lawrence's, Feltham
Fr. Chris Vipers, Pilgrimage Director to World Youth Day 2008 and now Parish Priest of St. Lawrence in Feltham connects Catholic faith with Pope Benedict’s visit.

Our Catholic duty to the Papal Visit
Somebody said to me two days ago on the phone… ‘a great way of looking at this is visit of the Pope is, you know, the Pope’s come to visit the Catholics of England and Scotland, and he’s saying hi to Wales via Satellite, but actually, it means, he’s coming to visit… you’. I thought, yeah… that makes sense. And he said ‘when the Pope’s giving his talks, his address, his homilies, it’s like he’s going to be sitting in your living room and sharing stuff with you’, and I thought that works for me and makes sense! And actually, I’m one of the Catholics from England and Wales, everything the Pope says, he’s like… talking to me! And I think… wow. That’s such a beautiful privilege that the Pope’s coming to share the Gospel with us. He’s an old man, he’s 83, and he’s taking that time and using that energy to come here and share stuff with us because he was invited to by the Queen and the Government. We’ve got a role as Catholics to not settle for second hand of what the Pope said – so don’t just listen to reports about it on the radio and newspapers. Because you can, if you’re not there, watch it online, some of it on the telly, you’ve got BBC1 and BBC2, all those news channels like BBCNews covering other stuff, and Radio 4 are broadcasting direct. As Catholics we have a duty to do that. What’s the Pope saying to me in this? We’ve also got a role to be good Catholic ambassadors ourselves, within our families, our friendship circles, and locally. Be proud of being a Catholic and say ‘yeah… this is my faith’.

Negative media turned positive for World Youth Day
We are such a force for good in the world. And we all know there’s been the most horrendous mistakes made and horrible stuff happened in the name of the Church in different places – bad individuals who have been badly handled… we all know that, but it doesn’t in any way affect the truth of the faith. It doesn’t in any way affect the nature of the Church. And it seems people are threatened by that – they react in a really horrible way. Their protest is not just about protesting about the Pope coming, I think it is their way of attacking Catholicism. We’ll see when the Pope comes – we’ve just got to listen to him. It’s interesting… because in Australia with the build up to Sydney’s World Youth Day, there was a lot of negative publicity about World Youth Day and about the Pope in the Australian media and press leading up to it which I’d been made aware of as I’ve got some friends in Sydney, and the media said some quite nasty stuff with a lot of anger about the disruption it’s going to cause and all this kind of stuff. But then… it’s interesting… because when we were there I was picking up local Sydney papers, just looking at the coverage, and the media had turned around because they could see just thousands of young people who weren’t causing trouble… they weren’t breaking stuff or stealing stuff and doing stuff. That really, ‘oooh, what’s happening here’ sort of thing. And the stuff the Pope was saying… they said ‘yeah, this is really good’! I mean… they weren’t converted… they didn’t flower into Catholics you know… but it turned it around and I think there’s something about the Pope’s visit that’s about to happen.

Let’s just go for it
What time is our coach leaving? 1:45 in the morning. Why? My question I ask God now everyday… every morning and night! WHY? Why do I have to lose a night’s sleep? I mean we won’t get back from Hyde Park until 10 o’clock, half 10 even by the time it’s all over and we get out. And then a couple of hours later, getting on a coach, ‘why God are you doing this to me? What have I don’t to deserve this, I don’t know! I try and be a good person, I love my dog, I love my house, I love other people…’ [we both have a great laugh]. We’ve got about 20 going to Birmingham from here, and I think we’re driving up with Isleworth – they’re coming here along with one other Parish too. I won’t lead the rosary between here and Birmingham – I might actually get killed by people if I dared to pray at that time in the morning… I might say a night prayer before we actually say ‘night night, sleep tight’. But hey… this is a one off! I don’t know how it’s all going to look, how it’s all going to be, how we’re all going to feel, but let’s just go for it! Just go for it!

Seize the moment
There’s something about this being a unique one-off opportunity for us as Catholics in the UK to really publicly stand up and say ‘we’re here… wee love our faith, we love our Church, we love our Pope’. Archbishop Vincent said ‘We do see faith not as a problem to be solved but as a gift to be discovered afresh’. I think it’s also quite important because people outside the Church, there’s a sense of negativity because of the awful scandals that have come to light and I think it’s important for us as ordinary Catholics, all of us, to be able to stand up and say ‘…but our faith means everything to us, and we love our faith, we’re proud of our faith and we love our Church. We need to say that, and we need you to hear it’. Pope Benedict is going to come and strengthen us in our faith – he’s actually giving us a real opportunity to do it. This is a unique opportunity because what other opportunity do we have to take Hyde Park by storm like a rock concert or like a big rally? What other opportunities do we have to line the streets? To break out of our Churches? And to do it all on the outside? What other opportunity do we have to fill a park in Birmingham? It’s giving us a real moment to do it. This is our moment. Let’s seize it. You don’t have to pass a test to do it! You don’t have to be 100% going-for-it Catholic. You don’t have to be like Mother Theresa. You may struggle with some of the teachings of the Church. You may not understand or fully accept them but it doesn’t stop you being proud of who you are as a Catholic. Be glad to be given this chance to say it out loud and to say it large.

All-inclusive Church
In the Church, we are all equals. There are conscious objectors – people who seriously want to see major changes in the Church and disagree with Papal teaching, Church teaching on few issues like celibacy and marriage for clergy, ordination of women, teachings about artificial birth control, whatever. People struggle with all sorts of things. What’s important is that there’s no sense of them being alienated. They’re as Catholic as you and me. That’s why I say that the Church to me is inclusive. The doors are open. We all belong. We might not all agree, but we all belong. It’s important to keep that sense of communion. It’s important to listen to each other and respect each other.

Wait and see… to your question about expecting new faces at Church. I don’t know what the effect of his visit will be for people. I think we need to be open to all sorts of possibilities. You know, a lot of people who may be lapsed, may well hear something that touches them. I think we just need to pray a simple prayer that those who need to hear the message, hear it... whether that’s Catholics or other Christians, or people of other faiths, just need to hear it. Cardinal Newman’s life motto, heart speaks unto heart is a really inspired coincidence that when the Pope comes, he’s beatifying Cardinal Newman, and that’s giving us the theme for the whole visit. To me it’s like the parable of the sower. The Pope’s like a big sower just sowing that seed of the Gospel, that seed of the love of God, that seed of who Christ is for us. Those who are ready to hear it and need to hear it, may well hear it. Very exciting possibilities here. We don’t know the script and I think it that’ll be the fascinating thing… just how it’s going to unfold. It’s an amazing grace for our Church in our time, and people will value it more when it’s over, than before it happened.

Yes, Fr. Chris is a priest, but trust me… us ordinary Catholics are enthusiastic too…

Bradford Uni & College Chaplaincy prepare for Papal Visit
Up north, Bradford University and College Chaplaincy have 27 students signed up to go to either Hyde Park or Birmingham (pretty nifty number considering uni doesn’t start until late September). Resident chaplain Fr Stephen Brown yesterday showed a documentary at ‘The Melting Pot’, a homely bar situated in the basement directly beneath the chapel, about Benedict XVI. Their CathSoc team put together a leaflet about Cardinal Newman; some biographical details and quotes from some of his works – just so people can see why the Pope wants to beatify him. Plans also include a mini-pilgrimage to their local shrine, that of Our Lady Mother of Bradford at St. Joseph’s church, to pray for the success of the visit. 


 Meanwhile, back in Hounslow (which is my Parish), our Parish council have designed and created badges for the visit. It takes effort to do that. We want to offer something original of our Parish with which to celebrate Pope Benedict’s visit with. There’s a marquee going up outside the front of the Church so that people can enjoy social time, tea and snacks whilst the events are being screened in the Church.

We, as Catholics, are generally not ones to attract attention or grab the limelight. And this could be the ultimate reason why the media don’t pick up on what the majority of humble, excited Catholics are feeling about the Pope, about our faith, and about his visit altogether. But in our own way, people all around England and Wales, are excited about the visit, even if it's not shared publicly and Papa Benny's visit is making a huge impact on my Catholic Voice in this regard, because if it were not for his visit, I'd not be sharing my own voice publicly neither.

St. Lawrence has got about 3 or 4 young people going to Hyde Park, all really excited, and if you live in or near the Feltham area, there is a new youth initiative and ministry starting up called SLYC (St. Lawrence Youth Club). For more information, please email Fr. Chris: feltham [at] rcdow.org.uk.

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