Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Bellahouston – A Pilgrim Recollects

Much has been spoken and written about the Pontiff’s visit to Bonnie Scotland. Indeed many an intellectual and theological debate before, during and after this historic trip took place with views covering all points of the compass. 

I would like to give you my own, a layman’s experience of the historic Mass at Bellahouston.

I repositioned to Edinburgh the night before so I could join up early next morning with some brothers from the Edinburgh Province of the Knights of St Columba - we were to act as stewards at Bellahouston. My journey started at 6:00 in the morning at Waverley Station after a fairly good sleep on the sofa at my daughter’s flat. Met my confrères and at 6.30 the train set off for Glasgow. Little did I realise this would be the last time I sat down for 14 hours!

After legging it to between Glasgow stations, another train journey took us within walking distance of the KSC Headquarters where we received our accreditation wrist band, steward’s sash and some victuals.   A bus ride to Bellahouston and after the obligatory search at the gate we joined another 100 brother knights for an HSE, security and general briefing.

10 a.m., another seven hours before Mass and my feet are already throbbing.  I and another colleague are assigned Zone 2 which by happen stance is at the front (well, actually behind the reserved area containing rows of chairs set out for the bigwigs and other ne’er-do-wells).  As noon arrives so to do the pilgrims from “a’ the airts and pairts”.

The media are out in force and, wearing the kilt complete with tweed jacket and waistcoat, I am the subject of more than a few requests to pose.  Humility is restored next day as none of the dailies use any photos of me – thank you St Benedict for reminding me of Chapter 7 of the Rule.

Zone 2 fills up quite quickly as the afternoon wears on and by and large pilgrims do go to their allocated zones.  A guilty furtive look in my direction tells all but I only smile. There are two mega large screens set up and everyone watches what is happening in Edinburgh on a ‘live feed’. 

Three o’clock and most everyone is in the park.  Looking around it is good to see so many religious sisters.  I also find a contingent from Pluscarden Abbey and chat with the Prior, Br. Meinrad.  The Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer are also there and I notice a couple of men dressed in brown scapulars with a large red cross emblazoned on the chest, chain criss-crosses their chests and they wear patent black leather cavalry thigh boots – an ancient chivalric order?

The arrival of His Holiness is met with loud acclamation and it seemed that reality suddenly hits home with an almost collective feeling of YES! THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING. WOW!

The clergy process, the Pope completes the obligatory tour round the park to much acclaim, finally ascending the dais to commence the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  

Now comes a truly seminal moment.  Unlike my memories of this event made by his predecessor John Paul II, Bellahouston falls still – no hysterical cheering and 10 minute hand clapping whenever he spoke, no breakdown of any semblance of piousness and devotion during Mass.  Instead silence, rapt attention to Pope Benedict’s words, his actions, his visible prayerful humility.   A sermon from a wise father to his children; a message which should live daily in our hearts and actions.  

Permit me to recount an incident I observed which bears witness to this assertion. In Zone 2 the last to arrive just before Mass commenced were a half a dozen burly young adults wearing football strip tops – Celtic Football Club of course.  The security guard standing with me looked at me and we smiled at the sight.  Mass duly started and after a few minutes I noticed one of the lads showed signs of unrest and kept looking behind me. I  turned and noticed the security guard was the object of his attention. I  saw he was using his mobile phone but as he was replacing it in his pocket thought no more of it.  However the football supporters still looked unhappy and looked again at the security guard.  Eventually the largest one, most definitely in the category of “I wouldn’t like to meet him on a dark night up an alley”, walked off accompanied by a media photographer. They approached the security chief and had a quiet word pointing to the guard who, on observing this, tried to make a hasty getaway.

So what had actually occurred? The guard had “The Sash” as his mobile phone ring-tone and was deliberately playing it.  Now, if that is not a death wish in Scotland I don’t know what is!  Fancy anyone playing that in a field of 70,000 devout Catholics. Now all this was carried out with the minimum of fuss, or disturbance, to anyone.  Only we handful of people knew what had transpired.  I am quite positive that had this taken place anywhere else the lads would have had more than a few choice words to say, if not physical contact, with the guard.  But, there, that afternoon, they let nothing spoil their, or anyone else’s day. Hats off to you guys whoever you are. 

Mass over and His Holiness departs.  We are then entertained by Susan Boyle (who sings very flat during her second song), and pilgrims start to leave as they wish, contrary to the prepared script.

Eventually we arrive back in Glasgow QS station and have the choice of standing room only on the train about to depart or wait for the next and a seat.  We opt for standing and an hour later we arrive in Edinburgh.  I reach the flat after 10 p.m. and, with feet now feeling like the size of dinner plates, take off my boots.  I make friends again with the sofa and fall asleep a very tired yet very happy pilgrim full of memories of a truly wonderful day.

Next day it is off home to prepare for a week’s retreat on Papa Stronsay – but that is another post.

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