I joined the Catholic Police Guild in the 1990’s and by 2010 I was playing an active role as a member of the NEC, serving both as the representative of the Province of Westminster and the County of Norfolk, where I was a serving Police Officer.
I was asked to represent the Guild during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, by attending the open-air Vigil of Prayer with Benediction in Hyde Park on the evening of Saturday 18th September, and taking part in a procession of Catholic Parishes and organisations.
I traveled down to London on the 17th and made for Westminster Abbey, where I joined a huge crowd to see the Pope arrive there for Evening Prayer.
There was a huge crowd waiting for the Pope and the cheering was deafening as he drove past. The crowd represented the Capital’s diverse community and consisted of all ages. I heard a young man say to his girlfriend, “I just wanted to see him”.
As I tried to leave the area, I got caught up in a protest against the Pope’s visit. The noise was incredible and as the crowd surged forward, I felt my feet leave the ground. I have never experienced anything like that before or since.
I had seen Pope Benedict previously when my wife and I visited the Vatican on my 40th birthday in 2005 when we attended a General Audience, but it was great to see the Holy Father here.
It also reminded me of Pope John Paul II’s visit to England in 1982. As a teenager, I had seen him along with my family at Coventry Airport and then later with school friends when I attended the Youth Rally at Ninian Park in Wales. Both were great and memorable events.
The following day, Saturday 18th September, I met up with Sgt Steve Hall from Greater Manchester Police. Steve was the Guild Representative for GMP and also the North West of England. We’d never met but we soon became acquainted as we made our way to Hyde Park on foot in best full uniform complete with white gloves and medals. On arrival in Hyde Park I spoke to one of the many Metropolitan Police Officers on duty there. We discovered that we would be the only uniformed officers within the enclosed arena for the Papal Vigil. There were around 80,000 people there with Steve and me the only Police Officers! The event was being “policed” by stewards who were in radio contact with each other.
We made our way to the stewards who were organising the Banner Procession, which along with hundreds of representatives from Parishes, Diocese and Catholic organisations, Steve and I were going to take part along with the CPG banner.
The procession began and we made our way slowly through the crowds, many of whom were applauding and waving. The procession was brought to a halt dozens of times as members of the crowd asked for photos, and at one point, (I just knew something would happen), I was approached by a distressed mother who had lost her child. I took her to a steward; it was all I could do. I made enquiries later and fortunately they had been reunited.
The funniest moment of the day was when a man came out of the crowd and asked me about my medals. I explained they were for long service and two jubilees, but he wouldn’t have it. He put his arm around my shoulder, turned me towards his Parish Group and shouted, “I told you, Bravery! That’s what he got them for. Bravery! He just won’t admit it”. I continued to protest but with no success. Those behind us in the procession were getting frustrated with another holdup, so I just smiled and waved to my new admirers and carried on.
Steve and I also attracted the attention of the media and a photo of us appeared in the Guardian and the Daily Mail.
We were also approached by some serving Police Officers who were there with their families. They asked who we were and knew nothing of the Catholic Police Guild. Hopefully, these days with an increase in Staff Associations and Social Media, there is a greater awareness of the CPG.
Eventually, Steve and I climbed up onto the stage where we were greeted by the Bishops of England & Wales before making our way to some of the best seats to await the arrival of the Pope.
The Holy Father’s journey in the Pope Mobile was being transmitted live on big screens and the excitement grew as he got nearer. The atmosphere was electric as he entered the arena and Steve and I shamelessly joined others standing on our chairs to get an early view.
I took some film of the Pope making his way onto the stage. By today’s standards the quality is not great, but it helps with the memories and shows what great seats we had. It’s easy to look back on the Hyde Park Vigil as a chance to see the Pope, but more importantly, it was a religious service in preparation for the Beatification of Cardinal Newman and an opportunity to listen to the Holy Father’s words.
I remember Pope Benedict referring to the Tyburn Martyrs in his sermon; Catholics who died for their Faith not far from where we were. These devout men and women were hung, drawn and quartered. As children we learn about Guy Fawkes and almost casually accept this description of execution. It wasn’t until 2017, when I saw the BBC drama “Gunpowder”, that the true horror of such a death was really brought home to me. The Tyburn Martyrs knew the price they were going to pay but remained true to their Faith. I immediately recalled the words of Pope Benedict that evening in Hyde Park: “In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied”. We should remember this when we are mocked or made fun of for our Religion. In comparison, we have it easy today.
All too soon the Vigil ended. The Pope left and Steve and I made our way out of Hyde Park. We’ve kept in touch in the decade that has passed, meeting up at Guild events and Steve traveled further than anyone else to attend my retirement party in 2017. Attending this event as Police Officers and Guild Members is something we’ll never forget.
I would go on to have another encounter with a Pope. In 2014, as Chairman of the Guild, I had the privilege of leading a Pilgrimage to Rome as part of our Centenary celebrations. On this occasion I met Pope Francis and I look forward to recalling that moment ten years on, in 2024.
Chairman of the CPG 2012-2015.