Tuesday, 21 September 2010

David Willey on the papal triumph

The BBC's Rome correspondent, who travelled back to Rome with the Pope, reflects:
In Rome, we are used to seeing the Pope kissing and blessing babies held up to him as he tours around the crowds during general audiences.

But in the eyes of British people he was certainly humanised by the media during his visit, even being photographed patting a police sniffer dog as he lined up for a souvenir photograph with a small group of the 2,000 policemen and women who have been in charge of his security.

A pope who had previously been regarded as someone rather cold, professorial, aloof and authoritarian; had suddenly been perceived as a rather kindly and gentle grandfather figure.

The Pope's triumph was really his speech to leaders of civil society at Westminster. One political mover and shaker told me afterwards his performance had been "sheer magic".

Within the space of two hours Pope Benedict penetrated the heart of the Anglican Establishment. In Lambeth Palace, Westminster Hall and the Abbey, he delivered a rather flattering tribute to what he found attractive about British culture and traditions.

I watched it all from a sort of BBC transparent bubble - a TV studio which had been hoisted on a crane high onto the roof of the Methodist Central Hall, giving us unprecedented views of the great West Door of the Coronation Abbey and the London landscape.

I reflected that travelling around Britain inside the papal bubble does give one a unique bird's eye view of contemporary British society.

How much the Pope actually observed for himself as he travelled from Edinburgh to Glasgow and on to London and Birmingham I do not know, but this journey did also cause me to "sit up and think" about how stereotyped the view of the Vatican from afar can become.