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‘I saw red shoes stepping out of the car’

Niamh Moloney and friends with signs and matching wellies

Jo-Anne Rowney, journalist

As I stood waiting for the Holy Father I remembered my friend’s advice, “Don’t cry,” he said. “You know what you’re like.”

I was preparing to greet the Pope, scrambling among the others for a place. There was nervous laughter and excited chatter, then deafening silence.

“I can see his foot,” someone whispered. Peering over heads to see, I spotted the famous red shoes stepping from the car. My heart stopped, and I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement. Time seemed to slow down as I waited for the Pope to come into view.

Then I spotted him, a few feet away, nodding and smiling at us all. In that moment, despite my friend’s warning, tears blurred my vision – the momentous nature of the occasion, the whole papal visit, came to me in that second. The Pope had come to reaffirm our faith; my faith. I was struck that I could reach out and touch the successor of Peter, this humble and gentle man who exuded so much warmth. My heart was bursting, overcome with love for this frail figure.

Photos were taken in a flurry of clicking, and as quickly as they’d marked his entrance, I glimpsed the red shoes walking away marking his exit.

It was only the next day at Cofton that I finally understood my emotional epiphany. As we sang as one, I felt connected. Part of something beyond comprehension, the Pope had given me ­– no, us – hope. I’d never been so proud to be a Catholic.

Jo-Anne Rowney covered the visit online for the Westminster diocese

Niamh Moloney, whose sign, “We love you Papa more than beans on toast”, attracted a stream of television cameras

We are just three normal young people. Brendon is 19 and Rachel is 21 and I am 25. The day the Pope arrived we went out and bought some permanent markers and some old pieces of cardboard and decorated them with messages such as the famous “We love the Pope more than beans on toast”. We had no idea that pictures of us would go around the world. We had been disheartened by the media in the week before the visit and we just wanted to make some joyful noise for the Holy Father. We only wanted the Holy Father to see our signs and know that the young people in England loved him. We wanted to witness to the faith.

We had the time of our lives following the Holy Father around and talking to hundreds of people who laughed at our signs. We had some incredibly moving conversations with people who were from all sorts of different backgrounds. We were outside the nuncio’s residence in Wimbledon one morning and a young man going for a morning run stopped to get a glimpse of the Pope. He was an atheist but spoke of how he agreed with the Pope and had been truly touched by his words. Following the visit we have all been inspired to witness to our faith all the time with joy.  We are incredibly grateful to God that our little wacky message of love for the Holy Father was seen by millions. Many people have written to us and we are grateful we inspired people with our joy so for us only one question remains: Did we inspire the Pope to try a plate of beans on toast?  

Niamh Moloney is a diocesan youth officer at the Northampton Youth Ministry Office

Rachel Obordo, student

Amid the negativity of protesters and demonstrations, what I experienced in the piazza of Westminster Cathedral was a clear expression of unity by the young people of the Church.

The sight of hundreds flooding towards the Cathedral to catch even just a glimpse of His Holiness is perhaps an image more associated with the modern-day celebrity culture. However, what initially struck me was the enthusiasm and love expressed by the crowd at the utterance of the phrase “young friends”. That is not to say, however, that periods of silent reverence were scarce during the Mass.

It was the Holy Father’s intention to speak to the hearts of the Catholic faith, just as Blessed John Henry Newman endeavoured to do during his life. This message, realised in the joy and profound devotion I witnessed, is one that will have been received and carried in the hearts of the faithful throughout Britain and the world.

If there is one thing in particular to take from that day, it is that the faith of the young members of the Church is very much alive and thriving. I therefore have no reservations in believing that the future of the Church is in capable hands.

Rachel Obordo is a theology student at the University of St Andrews

Toby Guise, whose sign, “Drop the Filioque!”, was picked up first by Fox News

I went to the Mall primarily out of historical and cultural interest rather than with any clearly defined spiritual expectations. The atmosphere there was certainly one of high expectation, even though many like me were essentially sight-seeing. But when the Pope appeared there was a definite shift in atmosphere. It was not immediate but a sense of elation infused the crowd, which began to move down the Mall in a kind of joyful mass jog. I was personally overwhelmed by love for Pope Benedict and the desire to communicate this to him. I raised my palm towards him and shouted greetings of welcome and of blessing. His face absolutely radiated peace and love.

Coming to the end of the Mall, I was concerned at the possibility of a crush but the dynamic among the crowd prevented this. As it dispersed, people were highly energised and sharing their excitement with each other. It was an important encounter as even while I continue to reject many of the historical claims and canons of the Catholic Church, I do now accept it as a real and functioning spiritual hierarchy and highly value the Pope’s presence as the most significant Christian voice in Europe.

Claz Gomez, blogger

Awesome. And I don’t mean that in the trendy sense of the word. It was truly… awesome. In one fell swoop of a visit, thousands and thousands of us were brought to our knees as we watched our beautiful Pope Benedict XVI, a pilgrim from Rome, expose the awesomeness of our Lord God.

Few words can describe the effect the visit had on me. I was there at all the major pastoral events, to capture it all through today’s online social media tools. I shall never forget the profound moments that particularly affected me, the rapturous, joyful waving of the Vatican, Scottish and Irish flags at Bellahouston, the silent and peaceful way our countries’ youth reverently adored our Lord Jesus Christ at Hyde Park, and the blessed moment a truly holy man was beatified – a man of our land, a man of God, Cardinal John Henry Newman. These moments I shall treasure forever.

Today, I express great happiness at the enthusiasm we are experiencing in these countries: I have seen with my own eyes, and heard with my own ears, the working of the Holy Spirit through the “Benedict bounce”. Young Catholics are filtering back to our Church, and discovering there’s more to our faith than attendance at Sunday Mass – as evidenced at Saturday night’s Catholic Underground London. It is all thanks to God, the organisers, and the successor of St Peter, our beloved Pope, Benedict XVI. And no one can argue against the awesomeness of that.

Claz Gomez blogged, tweeted and recorded the papal visit as Pilgrim Claz

John Begley, resident at St Peter’s

Obviously there was a lot of excitement beforehand. He was only here for an hour, and when he arrived he went straight to the chapel and said a few prayers. He exchanged gifts with the Sisters – he gave a lovely mosaic of St Peter, while they gave him a beautiful embroidered chasuble. He gave a short address, pointing out that we had a lot in common. He emphasised not the problems of old age, which we are all aware of, but the blessings.

Everybody was absolutely thrilled. He was warm and friendly and greeted everyone with enthusiasm. On television he gives the impression of being a distant, academic figure, but what struck everyone was the warmth of his personality. He transmitted it in a quiet and humble way, with a little bow of his head when he spoke to you. And he had a seraphic smile. I’m 84, a year older than him. You felt you had something in common, because he’s an old man himself, so there was a rapport there. He’s left a wonderful memory for all of us.

John Begley is a resident at St Peter’s Residence for older people in Vauxhall, south London

Testimonies from the composer James MacMillan and the parish priest Fr Tim Finigan, along with many more, are available only in this week’s edition of The Catholic Herald.