Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Pope is visiting Vauxhall... and then he'll be off again

The Pope is visiting Vauxhall, twice.  Firstly, he'll be off to see Archbishop Rowan (he of the fluffy eyebrows) at Lambeth Palace, just outside of SE11.   Technically, Lambeth Palace isn’t Vauxhall (unless you work for TFL Cycle Hire), but never mind.  It is anticipated that the Pope will make conciliatory ecumenical efforts (perhaps in an effort to appease the Anglican flock) with talk of a shared brother, Cardinal Newman.  No doubt a public statement will be made, and then he'll be off again.  A few days later, the Pope will visit a St Peter's care home for elderly people in Meadow Road, where he's likely to say some prayers, greet the faithful and hold a private meeting.  A comment on the Stockwell News blog indicates that it will be difficult even to sneak a peek at the pope, as the roads leading to the home will be closed.  And then he'll be off again.

Unbeknownst to many, much of the organisation for the ecumenical visit at
Lambeth Palace will be undertaken by members of the Anglican Community of the Holy Name.  The Lambeth branch of the community comprises two  nuns, who have been based in a cottage within the grounds of Lambeth Palace since 1994.  When they’re not preparing for Papal visits, their other work is simple; leading prayer, looking after church fabric and pastoral care for staff at Lambeth Palace.  It sounds very routine, and in many respects underwhelming, but those that live as nuns or monks bear witness through their lives of simplicity.  Time spent in prayer, they would argue, is not an escape from the world, but a manner of drawing close to God in order to better embrace one’s neighbour.  The virtue of peace is practiced through the avoidance of distraction and the continual stilling of one’s heart.  A people willing to advocate and practice peace in such a manner are becoming fewer, and thus I consider their presence more necessary.

I'm afraid I'm still unable to work out exactly how many Roman Catholic nuns work at
Meadow Road elderly people's care home.  I saw a few of them when I visited Vauxhall Park Fete, but their exact number remains a mystery.  Their order’s web page doesn’t say; neither do the papal visit documents.  Perhaps it will remain a mystery even to the Pope, as the old joke goes.  Maybe numbers don't matter that much.  The Roman Catholics have been on site since 1863 (probably not the exact same nuns) and their work is also simple, but difficult.  Anybody that has borne the presence of those with dementia for long periods of time will know the toll it can exact upon the human spirit, but also, I suppose, the joy that might be received through giving the gift of time to others.

It's easy, far too easy really, to name the horrendous and despicable child sex abuse of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and to talk about the church's failure to promote condom use in countries riven by AIDS.  It is also important to declare those truths and not muffle the voices of the victims.  It is not difficult to consider instances of misogyny in the church or to bring to mind people who cannot conceive that "gay" is a label that many human beings rejoice in.  Am I offering a defence of gross exploitation or acts of uncharity?  No.  There can and should be no defence of injury to others.  I'm as stumped as the next person upon being asked to prove there is a God, to argue how evil can exist in the presence of said God, or to prove that the generic good of religion outweighs the generic bad.  The best I'll probably ever manage is to point at a healthy order of nuns who give up their lives to serve the needy and undeserving in the face of a sometimes obdurant hierarchy and a similarly baffled world.

In the meantime, there has been some Tweeting about the Pope's visit to Vauxhall, the sacred beating gay heart of
London.  There's obvious potential for protests at the presence of somebody that many people consider has worked against the dignity of human beings and who does not deserve a civic State welcome.  The broadsheets have taken sides, pitting the Anne Widdecombes of the world against the Polly Toynbees, and they’ve granted Johann Hari column inches to do his thing.   The British will (and should) always value the freedom to speak truthfully.  Free and open speech has been conducted in the newspapers and the votes have been cast.  The "nays" seem to have won on this occasion, if the number of unsold tickets Papal visit tickets is correct.  Maybe numbers don't matter that much after all.  In any case, who is counting?  I don’t suppose the Pope is.  He’s just visiting Vauxhall, and then he’ll be off again.

But when the Popemobile (will it be sponsored by Barclays, we wonder?) has been retired to its garage, when the jet departs and the faithful return to their dioceses around the country, who will be repairing the fabric of beautiful church buildings?  And who will be holding the hand of an elderly person who hasn't got long to live?  And who will have a faith that's strong enough to maintain that human beings have dignity, even when they're drooling and incontinent and scared?  Maybe it will be the secular humanists and the agnostics and the "don't knows".  I'm pretty certain that it won't be the State, not after the October public sector jobs cuts.  The Pope is visiting Vauxhall, and then he'll be off again.  So it won't be him.

If I had to choose who'd see me off in my last days, it probably wouldn't be Anne Widdecombe or Johann Hari or the Pope, for that matter.  I'd hope to be accompanied by my friends.  I'd want to walk with the people who'd kept some semblance of faith when the Pope had departed, and Monday morning had arrived again, as it inevitably does.  And next week, when Monday morning comes around again, when the Pope and protesters have left, when we cycle the rosary beaded blue tarmac of
Kennington Park Road and we’re left with the unpaid papal bill, the elderly will still need all the friends they can find.  After all, the Pope is visiting Vauxhall... and then he'll be off again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful comments well expressed.
This message from a papist!!

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