Papal Vigil - Hyde Park: another Team Win triumph!!

It's been a VERY busy start to the school year (new job...) but I have to write about events yesterday at Hyde Park.

I took a group of young adults from Southampton and Liverpool (the latter coming down to meet us in London) aged between 14 and 22 and a family of friends from Liverpool to the event at Hyde Park that culminated in the Papal prayer vigil. All of our group absolutely loved it, and so did all those around us, it seemed. The day just flew by. The music + dance... yes, was at times gloriously cheesy, but also at times quite beautiful and mostly very well performed. Young Liam McNally sung his heart out and the arrangement + performance of "You Raise Me Up" (most definitely NOT a fave song of mine) actually had me (and loads of people near me) choking up.

As did the wonderfully moving testimonies of faith from people during the "Heart Speaks To Heart" section at the end of the afternoon, esp. from the parents of the young Catholic murdered a couple of years ago, Jimmy Mizen (what lovely people his parents are). Hosts Carol Vorderman + Frank Cottrell Boyce did a good job on the whole, though Carol was noticeably more at ease (only normal).

Making our way through Hyde Park to the arena.

In the crowd. The arena terrain looked pretty full (on the giant screens) by the time the Pope arrived. There must have been close to the 80,000 that had originally been planned for (despite the critics saying it would be half full!).

Me + Robbie Ross, an old Scouse friend of mine. He came down from Liverpool with one of his daughters, her husband and their youngest daughter - an amazing character and a tremendous apostle for the Lord, someone with whom I have had the joy of sharing a spiritual journey these past 10 years which has helped both of us grow in our faith.

Robbie + grand-daughter Katie.

Anna, Matthew + Sophie. 3 more Scouse friends in our group, alumni of the LifeTeen youth ministry in St. Austin's parish, Liverpool, that Is was involved in for 9 years and through which i first met Robbie. Matthew is also a former pupil of our Liverpool school, St. Francis Xavier's College and Sophie has been Team Win Mother on umpteen youth gathering trips to France (too many to count), WYD 2005 and 3 trips to Africa.

The Priests, who were among those performing during the day.

The prayer vigil itself was very... prayerful!! During the silence that accompanied the first part of exposition you could have heard a pin drop. Benedict's words were very well received and I thought his words to the young people there in particular were much better aimed and far more inspiring than at World Youth Day in Cologne, 2005. He seemed relaxed, happy and ready to respond spontaneously with little smiles and gestures when his words struck a chord and generated a response from the crowd. As Damian Thompson (Daily Telegraph Religion blog) says, his shyness has become an asset and people do warm to him the way you would to a slightly frail but mentally sharp as a pin elderly relative towards whom you feel protective and would love to hug and look after. His tone was indeed that of a kindly, loving grandfather giving advice to younger family members, not from a position of superiority, but from one of love, affection and experience, wanting to share his acquired wisdom with them for their benefit so that they could share in the graces he has received and in turn share them with others.

The prayers and readings were well chosen. In the context of everything Benedict has been saying during this state visit about our responsibility to stand up for justice, to love our neighbour, to live in peace, the Beatitudes have never sounded as vital and as potent a rallying call for all Christians as they did today. 

Former St. Mary's College, Southampton (where I now teach) pupil Jacob, me + current pupil Chris. 

I (+ 3 of my group who were with me in Cologne) found today an all together more successful event than the last night + day in Cologne. There was a great atmosphere amongst the assembled people, young and old and the pacing of the "animation", as the French would say, was just about right. The studio director in charge of the giant screen images chose to fill the transitional moments with highly humorous candid camera close-up shots of pilgrims around the crowd, suddenly realising that their face was on the giant screen and reacting in all sorts of excited/embarrassed/shy/extrovert ways. Everywhere there were young children begging to be lifted on to older relatives' shoulders, pilgrims telling each other their stories (myself + Scouse friend Robbie in fact ended up praying with a couple who were stationed just in front of us). 

Yes, we came to "see" Benedict and he has set the overall tone of the weekend's events, but in reality he was simply the catalyst for a shared pilgrimage experience of faith, a proclamation and witness to what we believe as Catholics. 

I had my doubts about how yesterday would go. I needn't have worried. A resounding success and hopefully one that will indeed inspire the young people present (and those who attended the other events) to give their lives to God, whether it be through married family life, celibate single life, consecrated religious life or the priesthood.

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