Post by Marty Taylor
Getting ready to go and join thousands of Catholics gathering in the streets of Longbridge to see the Pope on a Sunday morning is something I never thought I’d do. Today, however, I did just that.
I am not a religious person, in fact I would go as far as saying that, in my opinion, religion of all faiths is somewhat responsible for the many wrongs in the world, past and present. Okay, it would be wrong and unjust of me to blame religion for all the negatives in the world, but it certainly plays its part. Granted, it also does a lot of good and is deeply important to many people.
Outside Cofton Park, 10am, people started to gather, waiting for that quick glance of the Pope. Even though he was not in his Pope Mobile, instead he was in a car with darkened windows which made the possibility of seeing him remote. Regardless, this was history in the making and being there was enough for many people.
People I met had travelled from all over the world to be there, and when I say there, I mean outside on the street hoping for that quick glance. This surprised me somewhat. If they had tickets for inside the park then I would have understood that to a degree. Bristol, Manchester, Cambridge, Bournemouth, Preston, Liverpool, Wales, Ireland, Germany, China, India, to name a few of the places people came from for this event.
Amongst the thousands of people who descended to this beautiful park in Birmingham to join and show a solidarity for their Pope, for their beliefs, their religion. There was also a small gathering of protesters who were there to make their views heard, modest in numbers but monumental in how they conducted their protest in a peaceful and dignified manner.
Speaking with a few of the protesters it was clear to see the disappointment with the turn out. Expectations were for a higher number. However, armed with banners and a man with a mic, they stood their ground and made their voices heard.
The protester with the microphone continually reiterated that the protesters were not anti Catholics nor religion, however issues regarding treatment of women, homosexuality, the covering up of known paedophiles, to name a few were what they objected to.
Whilst I was there I had an opportunity to ask Catholics about their thoughts regarding the many controversial issues that surround Catholicism, from the use of contraception, to the more recently in the news the cover up of paedophile priests. Obviously, this was always going to be a delicate set of topics to discuss, but in my opinion important ones.
Many of the Pilgrims I asked were only too happy to express their sadness and, at times, anger about the protesters presence. However many walked away when I confronted them with the issues that the protesters raised. I was surprised what I saw when I was there – I witnessed swearing, spitting and even threats of violence towards the protesters from Catholics. This was only a very few from a vast amount of people mind, the majority of people I met were wonderful people.
Click here for a quick interview with a pilgrim I spoke with as he was leaving.
One Nun was 83 years old, she originated from Birmingham but had lived away for many years. She made the trip for many reasons, one being her love and respect for the Pope. “Joseph Ratzinger, is a good man” she said. She also claimed that in all her years she has only ever known of one paedophile priest. Unfortunately, time was not on our side and she was whisked off by her carer so as not to miss their coach.
A wonderful nun from Ireland also spoke of her pure joy at being able to see this Pope. She said she was fortunate enough to have seen the last Pope too. When I asked who was her favourite, she gave me a cheeky smile and said both.
The most memorable person I spoke to on the day was fantastic man named Tom. I spoke with him as he stood on the opposite side of the road directly facing the protesters. Tom was from Ireland but now lives in Bournemouth, he drove to Birmingham during the night. As Tom was standing there waiting for the Pope to come passed, I asked about his thoughts on the protesters. “It is their right to believe what they choose and to protest if they wish, I have no problem with them” he said. And what are your views on contraception? I asked “Simple, if it is available then it should be used” Tom replied.
Homosexuality?, I asked “I am not gay, if that is what your asking” he said with a smile, “Your opinions” I said. “I don’t feel that is right for me, but my nephew is gay and him and his partner pop round often, it’s not an issue”. He spoke of his childhood in Ireland, how he was raised as a Catholic. In his mid 60’s now he spoke with a joy and fondness of his upbringing and a genuine love for his Catholicism.
I was with Tom when the Pope passed, I did see the Pope, but for me I saw something far more special than that. I saw a man, a good man with strong beliefs, have a moment that meant more to him than many could comprehend and it will last his whole life time.
At the end of the day, people are people and with a little bit more respect, understanding and acceptance this beautiful world of ours would be a happier place.
Tom, I thank you.