Monday, 18 October 2010 09:47
I would like to think that it was one of the electric cables I helped to put underground in my navvying days in Birmingham that brought the power to the papal altar at which Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman last month. It is not that I would expect the Pope to be reading on the back of a door that 'Standún was here' as well as Kilroy, but it is always nice to make a connection with a great event, to be there on the edge of history, like those who were going to buy
a stamp in the GPO in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916.
I also have a Birmingham connection to the first man walking on the moon. While he was taking his 'one small step' I was at the bottom of a trench in Perry Barr, short-handled shovel in hand, doing my damndest to look busy.
I had learned one of the great lessons in life a few days previously. A huge cable, about three inches in diameter, had to be pulled manually into a trench by what looked like 50-man tug-o-war team. The ganger was roaring like a bull. Every man seemed to be pulling hard, none more so than myself who was anxious to prove that a student could do a day's physical work as good as the next man.
The man behind me must have thought I was about to do myself damage. 'Grunt,' he told me, 'but don't pull until everyone is pulling together'. The gangerman ranted and raged. Everyone grunted, but nobody pulled. They were not ready yet. It was if they waited until the ganger was on the point of apoplexy, like a kettle about to boil. The cable was then slipped in as if it was a big snake that had just woken up and moved on.
I'm sure that Pope Benedict and Cardinal Newman whom he beatified a few miles down the road would have appreciated our efforts.
I certainly appreciated the efforts of Pope Benedict to engage intellectually with what was often described that weekend as a secular society.
Many had forecast that he would have been mocked as 'the man in the white dress,' that his efforts would have been derided, that attendances would be poor at various events.
He was in fact listened to, even by many who did not agree with him. Newspaper editorials and serious television programmes acknowledged that he had a good point in raising questions about a society which would keep religion and God out of public discourse.
That was all the Pope wanted, to have his voice and the voice of his church considered in the public marketplace. It was 'Let those who have ears hear', as Jesus said so often after telling a parable, after that.
The sight of pilgrims setting off and travelling all night to see and hear the Pope reminded me of that memorable night just less than 31 years earlier that I had slept on bales of hay in Ballybrit racecourse awaiting the arrival of Pope John Paul ll in Galway. It was an adventure as well as a pilgrimage, as climbing Croagh Patrick or visiting the Patrician shrine in Máméan recently was. There is no instant conversion, no great change of life, but a feelgood attitude: 'I was there, and I am pleased that I made the effort'.