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Papal Visit 2010

Reflecting on the 2010 Papal Visit
The reluctant pilgrim (Andrew Grundy)

I was chosen to be your representative at the Hyde Park Vigil on Saturday 18th September. I was part of the procession of parishes and catholic organisations.

Before I was asked to represent the parish by being the banner bearer, I was to be honest a bit unexcited about the papal visit. It seemed to me that it was the most irrelevant bit of my catholic identity. My wife had spoken to me about the visit of John Paul II in 1982 and what it had meant to her. Yet this still meant nothing to me.
The banner bearer was to be someone who was physically fit and who could relay their experiences to the parish. I felt I was physically up to the challenge. I did however feel a bit of a fraud because the whole thing was of little value to me. I was also petrified about standing in front of a crowd and telling my experiences. Fortunately I held the opinion of the people who had chosen me in great regard. I reasoned that if they thought I was right for the job, I must be right for the job. I accepted.

As my friends will testify I am a bit of a "last minute dot com" type of person. So true to form I left my banner preparations to a whole 3 days before the vigil. It was not until the night before the Vigil that it dawned on me what I was doing. I, Andrew Grundy, was representing umpteen thousand people. I was the official representative of the parish of Ss Alban and Stephen. I was representing you. A mild panic washed over me followed by a hefty dose of unworthiness, both of which were deserved. I prayed and trusted that I would do justice to the faith that had been put in me.

On the morning of the vigil I travelled up to London with a small group of parishioners. The banner bearers needed to go through additional security so were going to be separated from their parishes.   To combat my nerves caused by my "over preparation" I decided that I would split from my fellow travellers as soon as I got to Hyde Park. Up until reading this I think that they thought that I was being conscientious. I said my farewells in the knowledge that we would not be reunited until 8:30 that evening. It was now noon.

I went through the first set of security sporting my rather attractive pink wrist band had my passport checked and the contents of my rolled up banner queried. I met more parishioners queuing who were all so excited about what I was doing. This shamed me further. I felt that many of them would be better suited to the task in hand but the banner bearers were on a database. Last minute re-selection was impossible.

Eventually I came to the tent where I needed to register. I have to say my experience of the organisation was superb. I was processed very quickly and waited outside. They did however make one mistake. The pink wrist band was now complemented with a rather gory green sparkly wrist band. My exterior now matched my interior, it was a mess!

I stood next to a lady and we got chatting. She soon told me of a great tragedy in her life; the death of her adult son. I felt so useless. To my shame I wanted to run. I was not emotionally equipped to deal with such pain. I had nothing to offer her, nothing to say, nothing to give. I wanted to run but I was not permitted to leave. I prayed. There must be some reason as to why now, why me, why her.

We talked some more. We spoke of many things. Our conversation dipped in and out of tragedy. We had some laughs and I was close to tears. After much waiting we were shepherded into groups and the procession slowly took shape. I found my self wanting to be with my new friend, my wish was granted. We were to walk together.
I think it was about 4:30 when we actually started to move. The organisers had invited some groups on stage to engage us. There were some very talented offerings.

  As we walked, we talked. I seemed to gain some sense of self worth by being with this woman. I soon realised that what I took as brokenness and weakness was actually coming from some one who was a conqueror. Someone who was not afraid.

It was fun being in the procession. Every time I saw some one I knew I was boosted and my pride grew. I started to feel that I was representing the parish of Ss Alban and Stephen.

The park was covered by lots of cameras whose images were transmitted to some very large screens. Sometimes as the camera's caught someone they would wave and the carnival atmosphere would increase. At one point I shouted "Hello Mum!". The people around me had a bit of a laugh. "No!" I said "It really is my Mum". I broke rank and grabbed my Mum. I stopped going to church when I was about 14. I was not confirmed until I was in my early 20's. Here I was an ambassador for this church. The no hope teen was standing upright with his mum with all these witnesses. To me the greatest witness was my new friend. In this short period of time she and her opinion had begun to matter to me.

We went through one last security check before we were to go on the stage. I turned to my companion and told her that she had made my pilgrimage. I was so pleased to meet her, to know her. We the parish owe her much, please pray for her.

As we went towards the stage I started to picture the people from the parish I saw that day. As we climbed the ramp up to the stage I thought about all the groups in our parish all the faces that I see every week. I thought of our ministers. And as I stepped onto the stage I raised our banner and danced across the stage as "Shine Jesus Shine" was sung by 85,000 people. WOW!

Somehow God had made it good. You were there just as surely as I was there. I thought that it could not get better. How I was wrong.

We were seated in a fenced off area in front of the stage. On stage they had some people who gave some presentations about what the catholic church does. Now leading up to the Papal visit there was a lot of negativity about the Church in the press. The problems within the church were laid bare for all pick at, to probe to criticise. And I listened. I allowed this to fester in my heart and to my shame I allowed this to colour my perspective.

And yet that which was laid before me was a church that was getting on with it. A church that was teaching a message of love not hate, a church full of forgivers, a church not afraid to confront injustices anywhere in the world, a church being accountable for its past. A saw a Church that did not exclude, a church that was indeed a body of many parts. One amazing statistic sticks in my mind; a quarter of all the aid that is distributed in this world is done through this church, through this body of Christ.

I heard stories that made me want to sob. I heard stories that made me want to shout. I heard stories that made me want to crow about this amazing organisation.

Every part of the church was there with me. As the pope entered Hyde Park, I knew that we were there, every part of the church from the top to the bottom. I was feeling tribal. Me and 85,000 believers together and unified.
And then this humble man spoke. The leader of a billion Catholics spoke in a soft voice that carried the authority and peace of God.

I have never really been a crowd follower or a crowd leader and certainly could never be described as a crowd pleaser. Yet I left with such an amazing urge to tell my story and to urge you to do the same.

This catholic church you belong to is incredible. This parish and what it does is mind-blowing. I would encourage each and everyone of you to get involved in this parish. If you see something that needs prayer then pray. If you think that you can help, then help. You have no idea about the power that is in your story so share it. You have no idea how powerful your encouragement is so build one another up. Share kind words as they will give life.

Where once I was so ready to listen only to the voice of doom about the church I am more able to see how we are all co-workers with Christ. I was honoured to represent you and so pleased to tell you all that you are indeed fabulous.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Andrew Grundy

Please click on the links below and take some time to look through the pictures and also to read Steve Pickard's reflections.

         +  Photos    
         +  Steve's reflection

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