I find myself surprisingly distressed by the death of the Pope. I mean, we didn’t really see eye to eye on a lot of things and I can’t help feeling that that nice liberal man from Milan would be much more likely to make me a happy Catholic.Â But all the same, you have to admire the man for whom the cliche “indominatable spirit” could have been invented.
I have been thinking about his trip to Ireland in 1979 and the excitement that generated. I remember I was sick and no one came near me to bring me succour or squeezed orange juice and I had to drag myself downstairs and watch the Pope on the telly with my mother to get any attention at all.Â My best friend got taken to Limerick by her parents and got up at 4.00 in the morning to get a good place to hear the Pope say mass. She brought me
back a picture and a papal flag which are probably still behind the wardrobe
in my parents’ house in Cork. Meanwhile, even more thrillingly, my cousin PJ was offered the opportunity to serve mass for the Pope. To his parents’ eternal (and I do mean eternal here) shame he asked what would he be doing if he wasn’t a papal altar boy and when his teacher said “well, you’d just have the day off school, I suppose”, PJ said, “well, thanks, but I think that I’ll take the day off then”.
Ireland in 1979 wasn’t exactly booming and it was such a lift when the Pope came, I think then that it was the best thing that could have happened to us. Now, of course, we’re all far too sophisticated to care where the Pope visits. I suppose the memory of how dynamic he was then has stayed with me and it was a shock to see how frail he was latterly but, by God, he had a will of iron and unshakeable faith. Fair dues as we say in Cork.
I know, it is kind of odd. I must say, I like him much better now than I did when he was alive. What a bad catholic I am (don’t worry, I have mechanisms for coping with the guilt).
I grew to like him more and more over time. At first, I thought he would roll back all the changes of Vatican II. Thankfully, he didn’t. And while I would have liked a less conservative Pope, he did do some surprisely “liberal” things, like asking forgiveness of the Jews, pardoning Galileo, and dialoging with Islam. While they might be small gestures, they are fraught with significance.
And I’ll never forget his first words to me…. “Where’s your beard?”
Well, we all wonder about the beard FT. But, yes, it is heartening that he did encourage far more inter-faith dialogue and forgiveness than previous incumbents.
Yeah, funnily enough, HJB, this is actually a true story. The holy father was a bit of a traditionalist and he liked his monks traditional.