Cofton Park Papal Visit

Sunday19th September 2010 – The Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman led by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in Cofton Park, Birmingham.

I think all sixteen of us had second thoughts about signing up for Cofton Park when we got on the coach at 01.30 on Sunday morning at OLI. It was dark and none of us had had any sleep. Some had watched coverage of the Hyde Park vigil and secretly wished we’d opted to attend it – though a few in the group had signed up for both. 

The doubts only intensified as the rain drops starting appearing on the coach’s windscreen.  Everyone tried to snatch some sleep on the journey to Birmingham.  We made good time and got to the check point service station at 03:45.  Other coaches started arriving filled with other bleary eyed and tired pilgrims.  

At 04:30 our coach joined the procession of coaches driving through the minor roads leading to Cofton Park. Once parked in row nine, we joined the endless stream of people walking silently up the hill and past the houses (some residents had got up to cheer the pilgrims on their way) to the entrance and through the security checks.

Given how early we’d arrived we thought we might be in the vanguard of people to arrive but when we got into Cofton Park we found hundreds of people had already arrived before us.  Seats weren’t allocated so it was a first come first served approached to seating.  We managed to find a space for our group close to the central aisle that had a good view of the altar.  Some of the group managed to get right to the front and got a good view of the Pope in his Pope mobile.

Once we’d staked a claim to our patch of Cofton Park we settled down in the cold, dark and rain to begin our long excited wait for His Holiness to arrive.  As dawn broke all you could see was a huge sea of umbrellas and it began to hit home just how many people had made the journey to Cofton Park.

As it got closer to the Pope’s arrival the excitement and anticipation grew and more and more people seemed to be arriving.  People squeezed into every free spot available. Then as the helicopter carrying His Holiness flew over Cofton Park, the crowd cheered, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine.

The crowd burst into cheers, clapped and waved flags from the moment the big screens showed that the Pope had arrived at Cofton Park and the applause grew and grew as the Pope mobile made its way through the crowds and brought the Pope to the stage.

The beatification of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman was a very moving and beautiful moment. He has been an important figure in the Catholic Church in England since the 19th century. Originally an Anglican churchman and Oxford academic, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and rose to become a Cardinal.  Throughout the mass we sang a number of hymns written by him.

It was a truly amazing experience and one that none us will forget, from the procession of priests heading to the altar, to the Pope’s arrival in the park.  Most of us had also not been to a beatification before so it made the whole mass even more special. 

Once the mass was over and the Pope had left the rain started again!  We all settled down with everyone else to eat our picnics and enjoy the entertainment provided by local choirs and bands.  When we eventually headed back to the coach park, we suddenly realised just how many coaches had been hired to bring people to the mass.  It was special to feel part of something so extraordinary and important and to be with so many other Catholics in the same place at the same time.

A Daily Prayer by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.