“It was 10 years ago, during the Papal Visit, when I was still an Anglican curate in Kent. I went with a group of about 25 parishioners to Hyde Park to greet Pope Benedict XVI, and to attend the vigil the night before the beatification of John Henry Newman. We took the train into Charing Cross, and walked from there, down the Mall strewn with Union and Vatican flags to mark the occasion.
“When we arrived in Hyde Park we saw a sea of familiar faces: other Anglicans who had come along, and who like us were sympathetic to Catholicism, and former Anglicans who had already made the journey to the Catholic Church. It was a very Newmanesque sight.
“After the introductions and welcome, Pope Benedict appeared on the platform before us. He began with a reflection on vocation; about the call to respond to the truth, and he encouraged us to be open to God’s voice ‘resounding in the depths of your heart’. The Ordinariate had been announced a year earlier, but was still to be set up, so these words resounded loudly in my ears.
“A little later the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration, and that voice which the Pope had mentioned was heard again, this time even more clearly. The sight of the Holy Father kneeling in prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by the bishops and priests, and with the rest of us all kneeling in equally silent adoration before the monstrance; it was to me, and I know also to the others who came with me, a vivid sign of all that the Catholic Church truly is. To experience that in Hyde Park, in that most English of places, and to be celebrating the life and holiness of an Englishman who had in his own time experienced much of the confusion that we as Anglicans in our day had also found, showed us the need for a clear and determined way forward.
“On that dark September evening the kindly light of truth that Newman had so clearly found and followed was given also to us. I’m not sure it’s true to say it was a ‘Damascus moment’, but it was certainly a time that changed us, and that made very certain the path we would later take.
“I wonder now and again whether Pope Benedict knew the real impact that all of these various elements would have on people like me. I like to think he did, but perhaps I’ll never know. What I do know is this: that God has created me to do him some definite service, and that night he began to show me how.”
Fr James Bradley is a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham serving as assistant professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC