Mike reporting on visit to Hyde Park in central London to see Pope Benedict:
Along with a group of friends from our parish I made an early start in order to arrive at Hyde Park well before the gates opened at 1pm. Since I was holding the banner they sent me through the gate first and we all ran towards the arena and managed to get a good spot right by the fence where the Pope would drive past.
(Richard with our parish banner)
The organisers laid on a full afternoon of entertainment and inspiring talks, while we waited for the Pope to arrive and for the rest of the 80,000 people to file in. There was a real party atmosphere, with unusually sunny weather for this time of year. Towards the Pope's 6pm arrival the excitement really started to build, on the big screens we could see him slowly driving from Vauxhall along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace and along Park Lane towards us. People were lining his route and running along to catch a glimpse. This was clearly no ordinary State Visit, the last time I remember an atmosphere like this was Princess Diana's funeral.
As the Pope-Mobile arrived into the arena I could hardly believe my eyes as the Pope stopped just in front of us to bless a baby that someone had passed up to his now open window. It struck me like never before that this gentle and humble man, the 256th successor to Saint Peter, was here to carry out the direct instructions that Jesus had himself given to Peter as he 'handed over' to him and started the Christian Church.
This first ever State Visit of a Pope was poignant in so many ways. We are just a stone's throw from what used to be know as Tyburn, where in the 1500s many great Christian saints, both Catholic and Protestant, were martyred in gruesome fashion for refusing to denounce their Faith. And here the Pope was addressing the modern challenges that Christians face, luckily in this part of the world that no longer includes physical violence. Even so, today's threats such as secular attempts to silence shared faith still risk damaging our Great British society, which owes its greatness in large part to its Christian heritage.
The main purpose of the Pope's visit is also poignant. The Beatification (one step towards becoming a saint) of Cardinal John Henry Newman, also highly regarded by the Anglican Church which he left, has paradoxically brought much unity and strength to the two great Churches. On a personal level for me it was momentous, having gone to school at the Oratory which Newman founded in Birmingham. It was amazing to see Pope Benedict arrive there to be greeted by Father Gregory, or "Pop Greg" as he was affectionately known in my school days all those 40 years ago!
For a short video clip of the highlights of the visit: