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The papal visit, a year on KIERAN CONRY

Permission to be Catholic

It is now 12 months since Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain – an event that renewed many people’s commitment to the Church and sense of Catholic identity. Rather than be just a distant memory, it can still inspire a deepening of faith and dialogue with others

of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain almost coincide. And this is no accident; the two are very closely related. Part of the message about “meatless” Fridays is indeed about penance and the recognition of Friday as the day on which the Lord died. Part of it is also about giving witness: “I’m not eating meat today because I’m a Catholic.” But an important part of the message is a reminder to ourselves that we are Catholics. If I go without a meal on Friday, or abstain from alcohol, chocolate, coffee or whatever else I am particularly fond of, I will feel it, and that feeling will be a reminder to myself about who I am. It is to do with my own sense of my Catholic identity. The run-up to Pope Benedict’s arrival was a period of considerable anxiety and nerv- ousness for many Catholics. Parts of the media had sensed a potential public hostility towards the former Cardinal Ratzinger, partly whipped up by aggressive and rather noisy atheists, some of whom no doubt saw the



In memory of the photographer

Tim Hetherington, killed by a mortar blast on the Tripoli Highway in Misrata, 20 April 2011

Come close. Press eye to subject. Leave no space between the living and the dead. Make him, the one enduring fact,

the image created from this moment and no other. As hawthorn’s scent drives spring into the mind, bring this corpse

to consciousness, and make him fill this room, where gold’s gone dim and lapis peace hardens … Raise him,

and touch his face: trace with newest light the cracked lips and broken capillaries, the contracting pupils …

Prove, from his wounds, the force of love’s violence, and say, with emphatic silence: This is not Christ. This is not Christ. Julith Jedamus

he somewhat misunderstood reintroduction of “fish-on-Friday” authorised by the bishops of England and Wales and the first anniversary

opportunity to sell a few more books. I was in the television studios of the

BBC’s Newsnight the evening of the day the Pope landed in Scotland. As the programme began, with its natural focus on the Pope and the Catholic Church, the presenter, Emily Maitlis, asked the producer for a picture-feed from Scotland. We saw a picture of the papal motorcade driving between the crowds packing the streets of Edinburgh. She turned towards the camera and asked: “Does this look like aggressive secularism to you?” In Madrid for World Youth Day the other week , I asked young people at one of the catechetical sessions how easy it was to be a young Catholic today. The general response was that it was not all that easy in their ordinary lives. Did it feel any different here in Madrid? Yes, it felt completely different here, they said. I suggested that there they are being given full permission to be Catholic, and this is something that is extremely rare. It happens in Lourdes and a few other places. Whether it is true or not, we feel as though we are not given permission to display our Catholic faith in any way – indeed, in certain circumstances we are told explicitly that it is not allowed. Some of that changed with the papal visit. Some of our waning self-confidence and Catholic identity returned. It was clear that it was all right to crowd the streets of Edinburgh and London even if only to wave at the Pope in his car, looking a little surprised himself; on his return to Rome, he is alleged to have referred to the visit “putting the wind back in my sails”. There had been fears that small crowds at the great public events at London’s Hyde Park and Cofton Park in Birmingham would be an embarrassment, but in the end they were moments of great pride for the Catholic Church. People not only flocked to see the Pope and pray, but young people knelt in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in Hyde Park, in an instinc- tive moment of devotion. I was told by one of the Australian bishops

in Madrid that one of the most profound effects of the previous World Youth Day held in Sydney was a completely different rela- tionship between the police and young people. The police there had not been expecting thou- sands upon thousands of young people to be roaming the streets and not causing trouble. It’s a pity that memories are short and that

A couple at the Hyde Park vigil during the Pope’s visit last September. Photo: Marcin Mazur,

the sight of those young people in Hyde Park could not counterbalance images of young people rioting and looting in our streets. I’m sure that the 2,000 or so young people who went to Madrid from England, Wales and Scotland went with heightened enthu- siasm and expectation after seeing the way that Benedict had greeted them and the whole nation with a warmth and gentleness that took so many by surprise. One of my memories of the papal Mass in Sydney is the wide spec- trum of involvement among the young people on the field at Randwick. As the Pope held up the sacred host and proclaimed, “This is the Lamb of God”, two young girls behind me were beginning their breakfast; a young man to my left was still sleeping. But in Madrid, nearly all of the people I could see were turned towards the papal altar or one of the large screens and either standing perfectly still and quiet or kneeling. If you visit London these days, you can’t escape the Olympic Games. The five rings and the other more mysterious Olympic logos are everywhere. New coins have an Olympic image and with nearly a year to go there are Olympic souvenirs on sale. In his critique of contemporary culture, On the Way to Life, Fr James Hanvey SJ suggests that we live in a culture that is “flat”. Such a culture is suscep- tible to “events” constructed by organisations, where everything has to be on a “mega” scale, especially the hype, to promote the “event” as “extraordinary”. He also warns that things such as World Youth Day itself risk falling into this category, where they can produce a “transitory effervescence”. But I suspect (and (Continued on page 12.)

17 September 2011 | THE TABLET | 11

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