The Pope at Westminster
It goes without saying that the late John Paul II was one of the most admired and charismatic of modern Pontiffs. It also goes without saying that Westminster Cathedral is one of the great Catholic churches of the world, with its distinctive Byzantine architecture and award-winning choir (boys and men), which sings at Mass daily. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a priest of Westminster!
Imagine my excitement this morning when I got a DVD transfer of some ancient videos in the diocesan archive showing the Pope celebrating Mass at the Cathedral in May 1982. I've spent the last 20 minutes sitting at my desk in the archives watching the footage.
I was only six at the time so my memories are vague, though I remember seeing the Pope as he made his way to Wembley Stadium shortly afterwards. It is great to re-visit this historic moment as a priest - seeing the Pope say Mass in London (with concelebrating bishops dressed in rather fine red fiddlebacks) and hearing the cathedral choir sing Mozart's Coronation Mass. There were some terrific vignettes, such as the Pope pausing to venerate the relics of St John Southworth, one of the English martyrs, or his blessing of the crowds from a balcony (see picture above). Also, rather poignantly, is a shot of my late uncle, Mgr Richard Stewart, who worked in the Vatican and was involved in organising the Papal Visit. He died suddenly in 1985, though he remained a key figure in the discernment of my priestly vocation. This is the first time I have seen footage of him.
There can't have been many Papal Masses as spectacular as this one during the last forty years. Let's hope Benedict XVI, with his great love for music and liturgy, will make some appropriate reforms so that St Peter's is once again a centre of liturgical excellence.