Monday 11th February 2013 will always be a momentous day for Catholics like myself. It was the day that Pope Benedict XVI announced that he is to retire.
For the first time in over 600 years a Pope was to resign from their position as head of the Catholic Church and make way for a successor. Ill health and frailty was cited as the reason.
My initial reaction, like many was one of shock. At first I heard that he was to resign but no reason was given. I wondered why, what had gone wrong, had scandals which plagued his time in the limelight come back to bite him?
Then as further information came to light I quickly accepted the future prospect and began to view the decision as one of good sense and total respect to the responsibilities and duties that go with such an important role.
These feelings were followed by a recollection of the time I actually saw Pope Benedict in the flesh. And yes, you’ve guessed it, this occurred during one of my many travels.
It was April 2008 and I was working in a small town in Pennsylvania. My trip had been planned for a while so I arranged to make my first (and so far only) trip to New York for the weekend. My curiosity as opposed to excitement of visiting New York was then balanced somewhat with my realisation a week before that the Pope would be in town.
My trip was for less than 48 hours so time was limited with so much to see and do. I’d seen John Paul II in 1982 but never seen his successor. Surely I could fit this in too?
I quickly picked up the schedule of the Papal visit from the media and planned accordingly.
I was up early on the Saturday morning to try to see him arrive at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Both I and the cathedral were in the heart of Manhattan so getting there was easy.
In spite of some anti-Pope protesters (which baffled a policeman on duty) I was able to wait with the eager few at the barricades. Such an early start proved to bear little fruit as the black limo with His Holiness just whizzed by at a fair speed under police escort. With a number of black limos in procession it was difficult to figure out which one he rode in but I caught it, just.
Feeling somewhat disappointed I listened on as a police officer explained the route and timing of the journey away from the cathedral in a few hours time.
After a rush around to cram in seeing the United Nations and a few other sites I was back to see the Papal visit. This time the crowds had gathered and I was a few people deep away from the barricade.
Viewing position wasn’t great but at least I could see with a combination of ducking and diving and standing on tip toes.
As is often the case with these things the timetable was not strictly complied with. I think the procession was due around 2pm (?) yet was at least 15-20 minutes late if not more so.
The excitement rose as the buzz from the crowd increased. Appreciative cheers and waving of flags filled the air as the police escort proceeded down the boulevard.
As if in a flash it was virtually over again. Only this time the infamous Pope Mobile offered me a much better view.
Sadly my camera and viewing position did not afford me a great picture. It is more the memories in my mind that are worth treasuring.
I fulfilled my aspiration of seeing Pope Benedict XVI on that Saturday. This was followed on the Sunday by going to Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s where the Holy Father had celebrated mass just a day before.
Seeing someone famous or of particular note is all the more exciting when you stumble upon it like I did. I must admit I was a much bigger fan of John Paul II. He seemed to carry a great charisma and a warm smile which made him easy to love. As a child I was in awe of him.
Pope Benedict never really inspired me and his time in office has been plagued with scandal and his quote of Manuel II Palaiologos which incited widespread protest from Muslims.
My travels allow me to meet or see some famous people. I remember years ago on a visit to London I entered Trafalgar Square which was jam-packed with people. I hung around to see what all the fuss was about. Then soon enough Nelson Mandela turned up, about to perform some duty at the South African embassy which is on Trafalgar Square.
Again this was a moment of chance more than planning.
I respect the fact that Mandela is seen as a great leader and inspirer of people. I fully support the concept of equal rights for all people, South African or otherwise. The fact the political change has been made is a great thing.
My reservations with Mandela lie in the fact that he is a convicted terrorist. He was arrested in 1962 for leading a bombing campaign and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
I appreciate they were difficult times and it is often said that one man’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter. That is true however I get more inspiration from the peaceful determination of someone like Gandhi.
Whilst Pope Benedict XVI is a peaceful man of God I always felt more inspired by John Paul II. Maybe it is a personality thing?
So who have you stumbled upon by chance? Has anyone famous cropped up on your trip or caused a detour to your day?
Seeing the Pope was an unexpected plus to my trip to New York. In fact I will always remember my very first trip to New York since it was a moment of history. It is when I saw the Pope who retired.