I was there, in Hyde Park on 18 September 2010 – Pilgrim Pass 008321 -. I went with a group from my local parish. It is a day I shan’t forget.
We got up early and went to the local train station, where we met the others, mostly mums with children – as a woman by herself with no children, but a qualification in teaching young children and a CRB check, I was seized upon as gold dust. It was fun, but exhausting.
Once we reached the London terminal we had to get to Hyde Park. The first thing which hit us all was the number of people with the distinctive yellow sacks, and the number of youngsters in tee-shirts with the name of their parish or school. As we got out at Hyde Park tube station it seemed as though the whole of Oxford Street was filled with Pilgrims.
We’d been told to be sure to get there early as there were extensive security checks. Being English (or in my case, half Welsh) we did as we were told, arriving about midday. We got to the entrance and I think the security men took pity on this group of women with children (and one man – my co-author). As we got ready to have everything inspected, the man waved us through, and so instead of spending many minutes being checked out, we went straight through into the Park.
For those of us at an age to be used to going to music festivals, the atmosphere was instantly recognisable. There was music blaring from the stage, and people wandering about looking for the best place to pitch camp. We thought of going near the front, but something told me to suggest we stayed a bit further back – we would, I told Jenny (the ‘Pilgrim Leader’), find ourselves a bit hemmed in if we got too close to the front. So we stationed ourselves about half way back, close to one of the flood-lights – something we came to be very grateful for.
Anyone who has ever tried to keep a group of children of mixed ages (youngest 6 months, oldest, 13) happy during a hot late summer afternoon will sympathise with us. The children wanted to know when the Pope was going to arrive, and of course, the answer was about 7 o’clock.
Still, we’d brought things to keep the children interested, and I ended up taking them on a long tour of the Park, identifying every tree with the aid of an i-phone application. Towards mid afternoon, as the Park began to fill up, the compères on stage produced music and speakers who helped us keep the children happy. We fed them on the picnic we’d brought, and then settled down as the young ones had their afternoon nap.
Just about 7, the atmosphere began to change. There was that excited buzz as everyone began to get the message that ‘he’ was on the way. We watched the progress on one of the several large screens, and then, suddenly, he was with us.
The children were as entranced as we were. There was a quiet charisma, and we followed the Vigil service with rapt attention. By the time it came to the Eucharistic adoration it was dark, but the Park, lit by the floodlights was an oasis of light. At the point at which the Pope lifted the Monstrance, you could have heard a pin drop. However large that crowd was, there was perfect silence. The Lord was among us – I have never felt Him so close.
Of the journey home, with tired children, there is no need to speak. Each of us was filled with the joy of the Vigil, and the children were perfect. It was my one encounter with the Pope who is now retiring – but it was a wonderful and memorable one.