Just under a month ago I was having supper with a friend when a text message arrived from Fr Stephen Langridge. “James,” it said, “I’ve arranged for you to read the Gospel at the welcoming ceremony for the Pope at WYD. Let me know if that’s a problem.”
Once I had regained consciousness and got back up on my chair, I replied that I would be more than happy to help and yesterday evening, here in Madrid, that amazing opportunity became a reality.
After hours of liturgical rehearsals, sound checks and walk-throughs I thought I was more than ready for the liturgy, but I’m not sure that anything would have adequately prepared me for the sheer joy which echoed around the streets of the city.
As the papal entourage entered Plaza de Cibeles, more than half a million young adults from five continents erupted with cheers of welcome: “Viva! Viva!.” Faithful to the Church, hungry for Christ, and with a deep respect for the papacy, the volume showed just how vibrant and alive the Catholic Church is among the young, and especially how much they love and revere Pope Benedict.
After a welcome from the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, the Holy Father was presented with gifts from around the world before introducing the Gospel itself. As the Alleluia began, the Book of the Gospels was led by candles, palms and olive branches onto the platform.
Somebody asked me what struck me when I asked the Holy Father for his blessing. All I can really say is that I recognised immediately the genuineness of his generosity and care for the Church. This is something we have all seen in his exemplary renewal of the liturgy and his offer of corporate reunion for Anglicans, not in some distant sense but in a real and tangible way. He is truly a shepherd and pastor and his very person emphasises that.
That sense of unity, and with particular reference to my own new ecclesial situation, was evident too in the providential Gospel text (as Dylan Parry has pointed out). As the Pope’s homily highlighted, we are challenged to build our lives on Christ, within and through his Church; “planted in Jesus Christ; firm in the faith”. It is my prayer that the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham enables others to embrace that call in the fullest possible way.
After the Holy Father had departed for the nunciature, a priest told me that I should think about the experience often, remembering that God had used my voice to let millions hear his word. I know all too well how unworthy I am to fulfil that task myself, but to have assisted in this way – with and alongside the Holy Father and in the presence of so many faithful young Catholics – will always help me to remember that it is with and through Christ and his Church, in full communion and peace with the Rock of Peter, that the work of the Gospel is carried out; may many others respond to his call.
Deacon James Bradley is a transitional deacon of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and is in Madrid with the Quo Vadis? vocations exploration group, coordinated by Fr Stephen Langridge.