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Pope John Paul II in Britain

In Living Memory, Series 12 Episode 1 of 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 03 August 2010

The visit by Pope John Paul II to England, Scotland and Wales in 1982 was a momentous occasion for British Catholics. This was the first time a Pope had set foot in Britain. The six day tour was a pastoral trip not a state visit, and on occasion after occasion the Pope showed his popular touch. In Westminster and Wembley, Coventry and Cardiff, the crowds turned out for noisy, colourful celebrations.

But the visit - which cost millions to organise - was very nearly cancelled at the last minute. As the Pope's arrival day in May 1982 drew closer, the crisis in the Falklands deepened. Many commentators suggested it would be impossible for the Pope to visit a nation at war with Argentina, a Catholic country. Argentine and British bishops flocked to Rome to press their case. Back in Liverpool, Bishop Vincent Malone was in the final planning meetings for the northern leg of the tour. As he waited for a call from his Archbishop in Rome with, he firmly expected, bad news, he discussed first aid and whether creams should be in tubes or bottles. It all seemed a little pointless. But then the phone went. It was the late Archbishop Derek Worlock - Pope John Paul II had defied the doubters and the trip was on.

In this programme, Chris Ledgard speaks to Bishop Malone, other officials and people who were part of the huge crowds and congregations. The main organiser, Monsignor Ralph Brown, explains how he dealt with companies wanting to cash in on the souvenir trade by bringing in the world's biggest sports management company, IMG. More used to dealing with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, IMG led the church through the commercial side of the tour, negotiating deals on popemobiles, taking care of spoons and candlesticks, and seeing off the firm that wanted to produce a screwdriver with a flashing papal head!


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