Monday, 20 September 2010

P+2: eyewitness accounts

In case you have lost track, P+2 was Saturday, the day of Mass at Westminster Cathedral, drive up the Mall and Vigil in Hyde Park.

Zero and I duly set off for London as planned. On the Central Line going up we encountered other groups with their "pilgrim pack" bags and other Papal paraphernalia on the way to the Vigil. We arrived a few minutes late for our film - Certified Copy - but weren't likely to disturb the other nine people watching it in a cinema that could seat 160. The film is very cerebral - or, as Zero probably more perceptively expressed it, "a strange film". One novel - and very contemporary - aspect of the film is that uses pretty much equally English, French and Italian. Subtitles, of course, but it will be a very different experience if you do not have some understanding of French and Italian as well as English. But in this era of European unity, why should we not watch a film in three languages?

We emerged from the cinema on to Piccadilly at about 3.45 pm. The tail end of the Protest the Pope march, due to set off from Hyde Park Corner at 1.30 pm, was just reaching Piccadilly Circus. This means that, assuming it set off on time, there were sufficient protestors for the march to take about 2 hours to go by any single point. Estimates of numbers that I have seen are 10 000 and 20 000 - but certainly what one would call a good turnout. It has to be said that, despite the nastiness and anti-Papal ridicule of some of the placards, the atmosphere was very good natured. My guess is that the march will have been finishing at Downing Street somewhere soon after 5 pm, when the Holy Father was due to set off from Horse Guards Road (pretty much literally 5 minutes walk away) at 6 pm for his drive along the Mall.  I think it is to the credit of the protestors that they appear to have dispersed and not made any attempt to continue their protest during Pope Benedict's drive and the Hyde Park vigil.

After seeking physical food, Zero and I crossed Trafalgar Square to go to the Mall for the Papal Drive, getting there about 45 minutes before the Popemobile was due to set off. There was lovely sunshine, key vantage points along the barriers already occupied and others claiming their place beside the barriers in anticipation of a close up view. We walked up to Buckingham Palace, and then back down towards Admiralty Arch to position ourselves about one third of the way up the Mall. A wonderfully calm and tranquil atmosphere as people waited and others strolled up and down.

The Mall was lined from end to end. There were two signs that the Holy Father had arrived at Horse Guards Road and was getting ready to set off on his Drive. The helicopters had arrived overhead; and everyone got their cameras ready. My photographs don't show the number of Papal flags very well - these again appeared as the time of the Drive approached. In the event, there was no great roar or applause as the Pope approached and passed - because just about everyone had a camera in their hands! But that is not to underestimate the enthusiasm and commitment of those who turned out. I didn't try to get a photo, just wanting to enjoy the moment. At this point, I texted to my sister in Hyde Park: "HH has just waved at us".

As we then headed for home (Zero was putting me to bed early for the 2 am start on Sunday for Cofton Park), we found ourselves accompanied in the tube trains by others who had obviously come up to wave the Holy Father along the Mall.

Earlier in the day, my sister had travelled in to Victoria from south London with her older children. She described the walk from Victoria to Hyde Park as being rather like a procession - the pavements full of people all heading in the same direction, having to move slowly to keep with the flow. She saw no sign of any protestors, though they will have been setting off from Hyde Park Corner at about the time she arrived at Victoria. They stayed towards the back of the crowd, but enjoyed a really good experience. So far as I can gather, the staging in Hyde Park was tremendous; the testimony of Jimmy Mizen's parents intensely moving; and the silence for the time of Adoration quite stunning. My sister and the boys seem to have really enjoyed themselves, and she described them kneeling in adoration at the end of what will have been quite a long, busy day.

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