Those of you who tweet will have probably noticed the news: the Holy father has his own “personal” Twitter address. Of course he already had one (@BenedictXVI, or the like), but the “Benedict” one was rather a PR outlet than a “proper” tweet.
So, will this be a proper “tweet” address? I cannot imagine it, but let’s hope not and let us see why:
1) Last time I looked (= two seconds ago) the Holy Father was following a grand total of 7 people. This won’t make for a great excitement when reading the timeline.
2) The public’s answer is enthusiastic, with more than 450,000 followers in a matter of very few days; but one wonders how many follow the Holy Father purely to show the Catholic flag (as I do; I doubt I’ll ever read anything worth the reading from there) and how many follow him merely to spit insults at him every time he posts a tweet, or perhaps even without waiting for that. Cue all the abortionists and sodomites launching themselves in rants against pedophile priests so that they may appear virtuous.
3) I imagine the process of the Pope writing on twitter like that: he decides to write something; then he takes a sheet of paper and writes it by hand; the first secretary reads it and thinks it’s fine; he gives it to the second secretary who notices it’s more than 140 characters; the “tweet” goes back to the Holy Father who writes a shorter version as requested; the first secretary still thinks it’s fine; the second secretary tips it on Twitter and sends it; a huge load of abuse follows.
4) Nor would I imagine (or want) the Pope in front of his computer/IPad/whatever thinking “let me log in on Twitter”, reading the amount of abuse directed at him, and “engaging” with the readers. Firstly I am sure he has more important things to do (no, I am not talking of writing books), secondly it is not fitting for a Pope that he “engages”. Which leads us neatly to
5) If you ask me, a Pope is supposed to be above things, not in their middle. He is supposed to hover over the cares of humanity and to lead the faithful with a firm hand. He must be the general on the hilltop, not the corporal in the close-quarters bayonet fight. The Pope cannot sink to the level or the common people, because the Pope is supposed to be above the level of the common people; to think otherwise is democratic drunkenness, not defence of the Pope.
What is next, the Pope as judge on the X-factor? Or in some strange island?
Summa Summarum, this twitter thing might well turn out to be a rather sterile exercise, used either to write easy sounding platitudes in Dalai Lama style (ok, the Holy Father’s platitudes would certainly be less flat; which by the astonishing stupidity of the Dalai Lama ones isn’t difficult anyway) or to send to the world link to the Pope’s activity, which the other Twitter address already did. One struggles to see the use, and wonders why a Pope should “get among the people” in such a way. Can’t imagine Pope Pius XII walking down the pub and saying: “Hi folks, I’m the Pope: what’s on your mind?”. Caring for the people doesn’t mean mixing with them; and if some great Popes did so (Sixtus V, apparently; and Pius XII, certainly) they did so incognito, and never meant it as an exercise in popularity and “democracy”.
Of course, evangelising means to be among the people; but the role of a Pope is in selecting good evangelisers (the bishops) able to inspire other evangelisers (the priests, friars, and even the laity), not in descending from his throne and mix with the tweeting mob to show he is one of us.
Methinks, this must be an idea of Father Lombardi.
It would appear that a new consistory is rather probable within the end of the year.
This is not entirely surprising as the vacancies are now numerous. By the end of the year there will be the possibility of appointing 15 Cardinals (if Pope Benedict wants to remain by the number of 120 elettori, that is). Now, this is at least one eighth of the next conclave, probably more – due to the system which sees Cardinals continuously losing electorate – and it is clear enough that every consistory can, in and of itself, radically change the situation at the next Conclave.
Pope Benedict is still in rather good health, but at 84 and with a past of heart problems I’m sure he is not planning for a reign of JP II’s duration. It is therefore rather important that this consistory injects the right energies into the next conclave.
Much is at stake, as both Summorum Pontificum and the relationship with the SSPX and the other traditionalist groups could be seriously compromised in case the next conclave results in a serious mistake. On the other hand, a careful but noticeable shifting of the centre of gravity towards the right wing would give everyone the serenity necessary for long-term hopes.
Ideally – if you ask me – Pope Benedict would appoint only one or two of the liberals to appease them (Nichols’ appointment is this time, alas, very probable) and choose for all other places men of undoubted liturgical and theological orthodoxy, possibly rather young so that they stay around for a long time.
I wish the Holy Father a long and healthy reign of course, but the demographic reality is what it is and it must be clear to us that this might be the last consistory of this pontificate.
Ad multos annos, Papa! But please, please conservative appointments!
Rorate Caeli has a very interesting double post, in which a recent interview of Bishop Fellay is linked to an interview given by Mgr Pozzo of Ecclesia Dei. Both interviews contain what in my eyes are very interesting points.
Looking first at the interview with Pozzo, there is an expression that will probably make some waves (emphasis mine):
It does not seem conceivable that a call into question of the Second Vatican Council may happen. Therefore, where do these discussions might lead? To a better understanding of this?
Mgr Pozzo’s Answer:
They concern a clarification of points that detail the exact meaning of the teaching of the Council. It is what the Holy Father started to do on December 22, 2005, by interpreting the Council within a hermeneutic of renewal in continuity. Nevertheless, there are certain objections of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X that do make sense, because there has been an interpretation of rupture. The goal is to show that it is necessary to interpret the Council in the continuity of the Tradition of the Church.
Note that Mgr Pozzo says that SSPX and CDF are working together at seeing whether a shared understanding of V II can be achieved. It will not be a dismissal of V II as a cretinous thing to do in itself (shame, ndr), but it might lead to the same thing, that is: the rigorous exam of V II so that every interpretation not in rigorous continuity with the pre-V II Church is clearly and unequivocally rejected. This would lead, in a word, not to a formal dismissal of the V II documents, but to their thorough re-interpretation in light of Catholic orthodoxy. Basically, it means exposing all their shortcomings, misleading formulations and wrong interpretations by still saying that, apart from the shortcomings and the misleading formulations, they were never meant to be interpreted wrongly in the first place.
This seems to me a clear indication that the distances are reducing, as the explicit words of Mgr Pozzo about the SSPX’s objections “making sense” further underscore. In a situation where no word is said casually, I think this is worth noticing.
Even more worth noticing is the interview given some days ago by Bishop Fellay, which Rorate Caeli reports under the same link. Fellay allows himself very interesting words (emphasis mine):
I believe that, at some level, the Good Lord linked us with this crisis, because we work for the restoration of the Church, but this may still last for a decade, maybe two. It is necessary to have lots of courage and perseverance. This can be resolved tomorrow, this may be resolved the day after tomorrow. All is in the hands of the Good Lord.
Unless I am totally mistaken, there are two important points here:
1) Fellay sees something like one or two papacies as the maximum wait before a full reconciliation. He talks like one who can see from the development of the talks that time is on his side. Basically, he seems to imply that there are some toads that have been clearly recognised, but that the Vatican will not be ready to swallow until the Council has been pushed further into a historic (and less emotional) dimension and the generation who has lived it has proceeded to – hopefully – greener pastures.
2) The first point seems to me further stressed by the revealing words that I have emphasised. I do not know about you, but to me these words seem an extremely emphatic assertion that the distance has now become very small, and the Vatican must decide not the if, but merely the when of the formal steps leading to a full reconciliation. At any rate, I can’t imagine Fellay using such words unless he is persuaded that every big obstacle has been removed from the way.
Not for the first time, I get the impression that the only thing now necessary before the SSPX is in full communion again is the death of the generation who has lived the Second Vatican Council, and the possibility to put things straight from a more relaxed, less controversial historical perspective.
From Una Voce‘s press release, published on Rorate Caeli.
“what is perfectly clear is that the Holy Father has fully restored to the universal Church the traditional Roman rite as enshrined in the liturgical books of 1962, that the rubrics in force in 1962 must be strictly observed, and that Latin and the Usus Antiquior must be taught in seminaries where there is a pastoral need. And this pastoral need must be determined by those who wish to benefit from Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae, and not be decided by those many in authority whose natural desire is to prevent their implementation.
Am I the only one noticing a new attitude, a new confidence, and the smell of victory?
Rather astonishing remarks from the Holy Father during his address to the participants at the Conference for the 50th anniversary of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute. Let us read the piece in the translation of Rorate Caeli (emphases mine):
The Liturgy of the Church goes beyond this same “conciliar reform” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1), whose purpose, in fact, was not mainly that of changing the rites and the texts, but rather that of renewing the mentality and placing, at the center of Christian life and of pastoral [activity], the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Unfortunately, perhaps, even by us, Pastors and experts, the Liturgy was treated more as an object to be reformed than as a subject, capable of renewing Christian life,
This is astonishing. Totally en passant, Pope Benedict informs us that V II was not about reforming the liturgy, but about an extremely and conveniently vague “renewal of the mentality”, and (incredibly) about placing the Eucharist at the centre of Christian Life.
It is as if the Holy Father would, with just a few chosen words, demolish the entire edifice of Vatican II by just saying that its value is not in what it was done, but rather to be sought in an extremely undefinable “renewal” which, when you take away the renewal effectively put in place (that is: the rape of the Liturgy, and the departure from staunch defence of Catholic values), means everything and nothing.
The second point is, in his well-meant attempt to hide the shame of Vatican II – rather offensive of the pre-conciliar Church. This idea that the extremely strong and pious church of the decades up to the Fifties, marked by a respect for the Eucharist rather forgotten in our times (a Church in which the mere idea of receiving communion standing on the hands would have been considered preposterous, and in which the idea that the Mass must be an interactive circus rather the re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice would have been considered utterly Protestant), would have not put the Eucharist in a central place is just outlandish. Frankly, I think that the Holy Father should back pedal on this, and apologise.
In his attempt to defend the indefensible (that is: to try to make sense of V II), the Holy Father goes on saying that unfortunately the Liturgy was treated more as an object of reform, than as a subject. This means, if we want to give meaning to a rather rhetorical expression, that the Liturgy has not been treated as the centre itself of the Church’s life, but as material for experiments. Which is absolutely true, but contradicts squarely what the Holy Father has said above, that the scope of V II was to put the Eucharist at the centre of pastoral life.
The liturgy is at the centre of Church’s life and the Eucharist is at the centre of the Liturgy. You can’t say that V II was made to put the eucharist at the centre of Church life and in the same breath admit that the liturgy of which the Eucharist is the absolute focal point has been neglected and mishandled. The abuse of the Liturgy is abuse of the Eucharist, and this claim of the supposed (and up to now rather unknown) aims of the Second Vatican Council is nothing more than a pious attempt to try to hide its total and utter failure by extolling some supposed and vague good intentions.
The Holy Father has understood that V II is bankrupt. Unfortunately, though, he falls short of openly saying what every sensible Catholic has long realised. Instead, he tries to redefine the Council so as to let the wasteland it left appear like nothing more than a somewhat careless byproduct of some vague, but pure, ideal.
Once again, the Holy father’s approach to the Council reminds me of Gorbachev’s approach to communism: to try to save what has openly and irremediably failed by redefining it and attempting to persuade us that it was not about its original intent, but about something different. But you know what? It wasn’t. Communism was aimed at destroying Capitalism (and religion) and substitute them with a completely new world and humanity, and Vatican II’s “renewal zeal” was simply aimed at destroying the traditional Catholic understanding of morals and liturgy and substitute it with an age of alignment between religious and secular values.
V II was there with the main aim to – not to put too fine a point on it – brown-nose to “modern times” and Protestant thinking. This, the Conciliar Fathers have done with great zeal, both during and after the Council, in the most shameless of ways.
I appreciate the fact that the Holy Father has with his statement dealt another blow to the already abundantly disgraced edifice of V II. But I do think that it is time to come clean and openly tell the truth about what has happened and why, instead of recurring to verbal gymnastics about what V II was apparently about.
The entire mentality of V II needs to be demolished and those years remembered as years of infamy and crisis the likes of which the Church has possibly never experienced during the course of Her entire existence, not even during the darkest phases of the past.
Interesting article of the Catholic Herald about the Pope’s message to Brasilian bishops, who are now visiting him for their ad limina.
The Pope’s message is very interesting for a number of reasons:
1) It comes in the immediate vigil of an important election day in Brasil. It doesn’t happen very often that a Pope has the not very diplomatic, but welcome courage to remind Catholics of their duties as voters just before an election. This will probably cause criticism by the anti-Catholic faction but hey, this can only be a good sign. By the way, next week is the US’s turn. I can easily imagine that the Holy Father was – as they say in Italy – “talking to the wife so that the mother-in-law may understand”.
2) Once again, the Pope profits to remind the Bishops and priests of their duties. In a world where all too often the clergy merely panders to the prejudices of the secular mob (see our ineffable Vincent “Quisling” Nichols, explaining that no, the Church in England doesn’t oppose so-called “civil partnerships”; may he repent before Satan takes him) it is good to see that the Pope continues to send a clear a message that not only they can, but they must fight the good fight. One merely notices that if the Holy Father were as clear-cut in his bishops’ appointments as he is in talking to them, we would be far more advanced on this worthy road.
3) The third message is very important, and must not be undervalued. Un-Christian values are a betrayal of democracy. When a democracy is used to de-christianise a Country, its scope has been perverted and its legitimacy starts to vanish.
Too often, democracy is considered an absolute value, a received truth, a golden calf. For a Christian, this must simply not be the case. Democracy is fine (is, actually, very fine as a political system and I do not know of any other which brings peace and prosperity in the same measure) when it is informed by Christian values and meant to respect and protect them. But for a Christian democracy is not the ultimate end, salvation is. Our civil and political institutions derive their values from the fact that they are not in contrast with the Christian message, or positively help to further it. This is – for a Christian – always the case irrespective of what his constitution says, as it is inconceivable that a Christian may put anything at all before his duties to God.
Democracies are there not only so that Christian countries may progress in peace and prosperity, but may do so in a Christian way. This has been so everywhere until the Sixties and all Western democracies used to be very much pervaded by Christian values in the way their societies were organised. When, though, a democracy starts to de-Christianise itself (eg embracing values typical of Nazism and Communism like abortion, or widely approved during Nazism like euthanasia), this democracy progressively loses its legitimacy before God and as such, in front of every Christian.
Democracies are not eternal, nor are they an absolute good. They can perish out of their people’s cowardice and indifference, or can deserve to be dissolved because they have turned against God. General Franco’s decision was not the delirious outburst of a Christian nutcase, but a lucid setting of the right priorities. What many lukewarm Christians do not understand (not because of rebellion to God, I think; rather because they don’t think this matter to its end) is that for a Christian every Nation is under God, whether it says so or not. There is no way one who calls himself a Christian can, once he reflects on this, reach any other conclusion.
Democracies are betraying their own scope and reason of existence. The separation of church and state is more and more interpreted as the elimination of the religious phenomenon from every aspect of public life and the creation of a society which is completely disconnected from Christian values. How absurd this is, how an utter perversion of what our ancestors would have thought the most elementary common sense, is showed by the fact that the first great nation who sanctioned the separation between church and state found it natural to write its allegiance to God even on its banknotes!
We are now rapidly reaching the point where Christian values can’t be even written in elementary school books, let alone banknotes. We are reaching the point where sacraments are seen as pure human conventions and agreements. We are reaching the point where even the sanctity of life is seen merely as a mean to an end and is seen as disposable whenever a society more or less democratically (through election or referendum or even judicial activism) decides that it is fitting so to do.
These behaviours hollow democracy from the inside; they eat it like a cancer; and like a cancer they will lead, unless stopped, to its own demise.
God is not fooled by secular slogans. The price for rebellion is corruption, the consequence of corruption is decline and the end result of decline is the death of political systems. It is the duty of every Christian to start thinking more like Thomas More and to say to himself: “my democracy’s good servant, but God’s first”.
The “Independent” had certainly hoped in empty roads, the embarrassment of the catholic hierarchy only disturbed by the noise of the perverts protesting against him.
Alas, things have gone badly wrong for the usual alliance of liberals and sexually deviant. Turns out that everyday Britain still understands when something special is happening and doesn’t start to insult the Pope at the command of a bunch of wannabe intellectuals.
Put in front of a reality televised live and not to be ignored even by the strongest effort of liberal will, the editorial cut of both article is rather a dry appraisal of the facts and an utter silence about what can only be called popular enthusiasm for the visit. There are even – rara avis – some facts which the “Independent” reports correctly, like the Pope being drafted into the Hitlerjugend, then deserting; facts that only a minority would have subscribed to months ago and that are now so much into the public domain that not even the “Independent” can deny them.
This damage control of the “Independent” (whose criticism of the Holy Father is then outsourced to some predictably unintelligent readers’ comments) is the first element that takes the attention. But there is another one: in the day in which the entire experience of the visit is reflected upon, the protesters are not thematised. So utterly ignored they have been, so insignificant they have been in countering the enthusiasm of ordinary people, that even the Independent prefers not to mention them.
The “protesters” have managed to get as much public attention as the “propagandamentary” of Mr. Tatchell, that is: almost zero. They have utterly failed in making of this trip a public outcry against the Pope; on the contrary, they have shown the extent of their own irrelevance in the Country at large. When even the “Independent” is embarrassed at mentioning you, you know you’re in deep trouble.
One can hope that even the one or the other pro-pervert politician will now listen and learn. Whatever the liberal press and the BBC may say, popular support is not on the side of Stephen Fry & Co.
Now that the four day-marathon has ended and the Holy Father has come back to his warmer and less aggressively atheist climates, it is perhaps fitting to compare what has happened with the exaggerated fears preceding the visit.
For months we have heard dire predictions about arrests and disorders. Once again, I must point out to the fact that the uncritical reading of whatever the press says leads to a vision of things which has not much in common with reality.
Foreign Head of States are not arrested when they visit a country. Not even in Zimbabwe, let alone in the United Kingdom. Adequate security is precondition to every State Visit. The idea that the man sitting in the pew be so concerned about the security of the Holy Father, but the vast security apparatus in charge of these visits has forgotten to adequately deal with the matter is just plain ridiculous.
What has, once again, happened is that the media – always desperate for the next bout of collective hysteria, because it sells – have given vast publicity to the deluded rants of spoiled children and that as a result millions have believed that these fantasies had a basis in reality. Peter Tatchell’s threat of arresting the Pope has never been more credible than the tantrums of a small child in need of physical correction. It was, in fact, just a matter of courtesy from the police to invite Tatchell beforehand and to make clear to him that every “attempt” would be a serious criminal offence; but I suppose that you try to be patient with small children.
Summa Summarum, the fact that the visit has not been plagued by any security concern whatever (the episode with the road sweepers was more a confirmation of the efficiency of the measures and the excellent work done by them than any indication of inefficiency or threat) should lead us to be, in future, more cynical as regard to various claims made by the press and expected to be swallowed by the readers/viewers without posing questions.
There has never been a security “threat”. This is not a tin-pot African country. It is even possible to organise an absolutely safe Football World Championship in one of the most corrupt, criminality-plagued countries of the world, how can it be difficult to organise a safe visit of the Pope in England.
Don’t believe what the press says. Not even half of it.
What the press publishes has no bearing with reality, but merely with the possibility to cause sensation.
I was sitting in front of the TV, looking at images of the Papal Visit. It was a dream so there were a lot of things that are not entirely rational, you understand.
The first thing I remember are the cars lined up at the airport waiting for the guests. A long line of midnight blue Mercedes S-Class and Jaguar XJs, with some Lancia Thesis in the back (I always liked that car, you know. These things always play a role in a dream). “Carabinieri” everywhere, in their usual perfectly elegant black suits with red stripes. Near them, the MET policemen with their yellow thingies and triple bulletproof jackets look like apprentice clowns. All cars have Vatican diplomatic flags and make a rather impressive show of power. Not “spit us in the face and we’ll be telegenic”-power, but rather “we can make the PM unemployed”-power. David Cameron looks slightly green.
It being a dream, at the center of the long line there is a wonderful Mercedes 600, also midnight blue. “Beautiful, that they have decided to use it again”, I think. The BBC commenter is saying that that is the car of the Pope, but the curtains don’t allow to look in. “Very good again”, I think in my dream, “this means that the years of the Pope trying to be a pop star are gone”. No “ice cream van-looking” Popemobiles in sight, with the Holy Father in it treated as if he was an exotic animal just come in from far away and you almost wait for people throwing peanuts at him. I breathe the air of dignity, of importance, of authority the long line of cars clearly conveys. The message is unmistakable. The Pope is not visible, but in everyone’s mind. Exactly his being not visible is what puts him so clearly on the stage.
And in fact, I seem to hear that even in the voice of the BBC commenter (it was a dream, so I knew that he was sipping from a finely etched champagne flute; but again this fact was totally natural to me, as if I wasn’t expecting anything different); there is in him a sense of awe, of occasion. His subdued, almost hushed voice is a clear sign that the long line of cars, the strange but awfully prestigious oldtimer in the middle, the obvious show of power, all demand respect in no uncertain terms. Much as he would have wanted to he can’t avoid feeling, well, rather insignificant. Being a journalist, he hates that.
He has prepared a long list of “reflections” about paedophile priests, wymyn “dissent”, priest celibacy, london buses and the like. They all sounded very intelligent and oh so progressive in a champagne-sipping way when he was rehearsing them, careful to get the right amount of patronising smugness in his tone. Now he realises that they would just feel stupid. Stupid like a petty quarrel put in front of the Mistery, or like a spoiled aggressive child trying to kick a splendid oak. The shamelessness of the display is in such contrast with the modern fake modesty he is accustomed to (PMs in jeans, or jackets without tie; fake informality; “I am just one of you”-atmosphere) that he is ten meters in offside before he even realises it. He knows that all this is wanted and he knows what everyone is thinking: this is not a PM playing “one of the people”. This is a glimpse of the splendour of Christ.
“Cunning bastards”, he thinks whilst sipping; still, he feels the awe and is fascinated by how it works even on him, against his will.
The helicopters continue to film the line of cars. The motorbikes are on both sides, huge crowds greet the Pontiff as the cars drive solemnly by; some close-up pictures show young women in girlish excitement, old ladies in tears , fathers holding up their children to allow them to see (it was a dream, so no health & safety madness here). They are driving along Constitution Hill now and making it all blue, and already the cars enter Buckingham Palace. Prince Charles is standing in the forecourt, in a traditional Arab dress, ready to welcome the Pope in his role as “defender of the faiths”. But look! The cars don’t stop for him and disappear directly – and with the magic of dreams – within the Palace itself. “They have probably not recognised him” says the commenter, astonished. He has been joined by another one. Being this a dream, the new commenter is Alan Hansen. As always, I can’t understand a word of what he says.
“Up to now” – says the BBC champagne-sipping but RP-speaking chap – “no one has seen the Holy Father, ahem, Pope Benedict” and bites his lip. He shouldn’t allow the pump to influence him, but he just can’t help it. “These people truly know what they’re doing”, he thinks. He knows this is the thought in everyone’s mind. “Bastards”, he thinks once again. But he knows he can’t help admiring their chutzpah. “I preferred JP II’s times”, he goes on reflecting. “Very telegenic, great audiences, no one cared a dime for what he said but everyone wanted to see him trembling. I would tell the audience why the Church is all wrong and explain how they can improve; all in a gentle, understanding tone not without symphaty for the less fortunate who believe in God. How I felt terribly superior! It doesn’t work anymore. Ah! Those were the days!”
It being a dream, I am now inside the Palace. The Queen is waiting for the Pope. She sits on a very strange throne made entirely of living Corgis, strangely sitting over each other and combined as to form a throne where she can comfortably sit. The Corgis all smile like the Cheshire Cat, but I know that the Queen doesn’t have any Cheshire Cat so they must all be Welsh Corgis. Suddenly, the Queen showing great energy jumps from her Corgi-throne (loud, but dignified yelping) and kneels at the feet of the Holy Father amidst the hushed expressions of dismay of the diplomatic personnel, saying in an extremely posh voice: “Holy Father, we want to convert to Catholicism. Please free us from this disgraceful sect of atheist madmen”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is present, and feigns indifference. Strangely, he is Vincent Nichols. He wears a rainbow chasuble with a huge “peace” sign at the front. Nichols says to the Pope that the Queen’s opinion does not reflect his own; he informs the Queen that she is a Catholic already, only not Roman, because her accent would clearly betray her as British. “We all speak the same language of God, Peace and Love” – says he stressing the words and counting them with his fingers, as to indicate the Most Holy Trinity – “only in slightly different tongues, Majesty“. He then proceeds to invite both to the homo mass he organises every week in Soho. “Very inclusive”, says he, “and great fun! You should see their “Little Britain” parody during the liturgical dance, Mr. Ratzinger!”.
The Holy Father looks like he would have a good use for a Beretta 92FS (it is a dream, remember!) and it is clear that he has made a mental note. He doesn’t say anything.
And then we are outside again. It is a magnificent Cathedral and I recognise it, it is Canterbury Cathedral. It being a dream, I remember that last year it has been bought back from the Anglicans at a firesale price because the Anglicans need to pay the lawyer’s bill. I smile at the fact that I still haven’t grown used to the fact. But I remember very well that many E & W bishops were strongly opposed, thinking that the purchase offended the Anglican community and was nothing to do with “ecumenism”. They wanted to make of it a Muslim Cultural Centre instead.
I am in the Cathedral now, but again the cameras stay out. Out is also a huge crowd, spreading beyond the little town, vehicular traffic blocked since dawn. Alan Hansen is near me and is now commenting live for the radio but as always with him I can’t understand a word. I don’t care because I am in anyway. The Pope has not been seen by the crowds yet. There is a total refusal to make of him a “popular icon”. But the crowd understands that this is because he is so much more.
I am waiting for the Mass to begin now. Everyone is there. The Queen is there, the Corgis are also there but now they are intricately put together to form a furry pew. Cameron is darkish green in the face, Clegg is yellow. Brown is brown (yes, that brown) and must always be stopped because he continues to say “bigoted woman!” and “it must have been Sue!”. Blair is at the entrance, distributing books no one accepts. He gets an egg in his face instead. Lord Mandelson is near him, wearing a tutu and also trying to give away books with his photo. People look at him in a strange way. No one says a word. Evidently, they are all still afraid of him. And evidently, they are all English.
Vin Nichols has a portable Hindu altar and is planning to worship in front of it, but he is Anglican so my dream doesn’t particularly care for him. All twelve Milliband brothers are present as they are all candidates for the top job over at the party. Unfortunately, their mother has told them she’d vote for the Pope instead, so they are all rather downbeat.
The Pope is at the centre of the attention. Old, but not frail. Gentle, but nobody’s doormat. Subdued in tones, but I hear Cameron thinking (it is a dream, remember) “this is one I don’t want to have against me” and “I must ditch the homos; there’s no choice I am afraid; who cares for the bloody frockers anyway”.
The Holy Father delivers the sharpest, most threatening homily Cameron has ever heard; he informs the PM of the historical existence of Jesus; speaks about abortion, divorce, euthanasia, tolerance for sexual perversions, a country going to the dogs (the corgis all nod here, in a very dignified way). He also touches the issue of the eternal fire and everyone knows he sees Cameron’s soul on the line; but he makes clear that there is still hope. Cameron’s green becomes slightly lighter and he thinks that the worst might be over.
But then the Holy Father starts talking about bees and flowers and everyone understands: he is instructing Cameron on marriage; with goodness and patience, as you would do with a child.
All eyes are on Cameron. He is decidedly pea green now and his roundish face looks a bit like a watermelon. He feels like a Pakistani cricket player caught in the “News of the World”. Brown still looks like his party, with or without the twelve Millibands.
Change of scene again. The Mass has ended. The helicopter shows to the TV audiences the huge masses outside. I know it because it’s a dream. Cameron’s skin is now clearly of a very dark British Racing Green and he is visibly shaken. He trips on Nichols kneeling in front of his Hindu altar and utterly ruins his garland. Nichols is angry. “You bloody queen”, he murmurs to Cameron’s ear, but Mandelson is just there and clearly hears every word. Mandelson makes a mental note. Nichols shivers. Embarrassment all around. Nichols has a brilliant idea and invites him to his homo mass too. “They’ll love your tutu”, says he one instant before realising that this can be construed as a joke rather than honest brown-nosing. Mandelson makes another mental note. Terrified, Nichols turns to the other side where prince Charles sits now clothed in a Tibetan monk outfit (purest silk, you understand) whilst eating delicious orange biscuits “from the farm”, as he puts it. The Holy Father’s convoy is now past them. The Pope sits on a sedia gestatoria, a wonderful Tiara over his head. He goes out in the full light, still on the sedia gestatoria. The immense crowd sees him on the megascreens and goes “ooohhhh” and “aaahhhh”. All cameras are on him. The crowd has stopped rumouring. There is an unreal silence now. The Pope scans them with his kind, but intelligent smile. “Vell, vell, vell”, I hear him think (yes, I do; and yes, in English!), “Ve hef shoved ze Perfidious Albion zet Tsekularism is not ze vay”.
In the silence, a man runs to the Pope. He bows in front of the sedia. A hushed murmur spreads itself among the huge crowd, then becomes a roar of surprise. They have recognised him. Thin, bold, scared, frail, but now hoping. He is Christopher Hitchens. He asks for forgiveness, live on TV, in front of a worldwide audience. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty!”, he says very loud and in tears; then he starts to sob uncontrollably. It tears your heart out. Hansen says something but I don’t understand him. And now the Pope makes one calm, solemn gesture and the sedia is lowered down. The silence is unbearable. He goes near Hitchens, invites him to stand up and looks deep in his eyes. Very deep. The camera nearby takes an extremely close shot of both men’s expression; one is inquisitive, attentive, loving but not to be fooled with; the other is just scared, broken, but you can clearly see that for the first time in his life he dares to ask for hope.
The camera comes still closer, it is perhaps ten seconds but it looks like an eternity. Finally, the Pontiff makes a gesture. It is a blessing. Hitchens cries, the BBC commenters cry, everyone cries, Hansen cries and that even I can understand.
It is a triumph. Everyone kneels down and starts to pray. Rosaries pop out from a thousand pockets, only Nichols continues to stubbornly pray in front of the portable hindu altar and pretends he hasn’t seen anything, his loud OOOOOMMMMMM of defiance lost in the general outroar. The Pope is now led to the Mercedes 600 as the screams become deafening. The long line of cars starts again. The media have instantly spread the news of the conversion everywhere. The crowds on the roadside kneel and pray at the passage of the cars. The helicopters film everything. Seen from above, it is like a hugely long, interminable Ola. I see it from one of the megascreen outside, in the clamour of one thousand Hail Marys.
When everyone has gone away, the cameras take a short shot of one man, alone, sitting there in disbelief. He is Peter Tatchell. No one has noticed his presence.
Then I wake up. I try to fall asleep again and to continue the dream, as I remember I did sometimes as a child. But it is no use. Reality catches up with me with all its harshness.
Vincent Nichols is the Archbishop of Westminster.