Glasgow & West Scotland

Pilgrims worship with Pope Benedict in Glasgow

Pope conducting mass
Image caption The Pope conducted mass in front of thousands at Bellahouston Park

It is not hard to see why preparations for the Papal Mass in Glasgow were reported like a music festival.

Within the controlled perimeter there was everything from a stage and sound system to miles of cabling, walkways and public toilets.

Organiser, DF Concerts, was also the company behind T in the Park.

But these logistics could not disguise the fact this was a spiritual event, and for one day, Bellahouston Park was an outdoor church.

Speaking before the Mass, Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: "Although all the infrastructure is very similar to what you would see at any big music festival or concert, ultimately the purpose of it is quite different.

"It serves a religious and a sacred purpose. When you strip it all down, this is Catholics gathering together to celebrate Mass."

While this was undoubtedly true, the Bellahouston event passed off unlike any traditional Catholics service in Scotland.

As in church, people of all ages sat and stood together, but there was no sign here of any sense of sombre Sunday duty - especially among the young.

Image caption Cathy Howley who was at Bellahouston for the 1982 papal visit returned with her grandchildren

Friends, families, congregations and schools laughed and sang together during the long wait for Pope Benedict to appear.

Traditional Sunday best was observed by some, while others preferred casual clothes or football strips.

And overhead, a sea of Papal flags mixed with a host of international colours.

Nestled among the thousands of pilgrims, was Cathy Howley from St John the Baptist Parish in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire.

She was at Bellahouston for the 1982 Papal vist and had returned again - this time with her grandchildren.

'Party atmosphere'

Cathy recalled the "party atmosphere" during John Paul II's visit with everyone sitting on the grass eating picnics.

"I was younger then but I'm feeling very excited now, especially with the young ones behind me cheering," she said.

Image caption Sandeep Jose (right), from the Kerala region of India, described the Pope as a global citizen

Cathy said she hoped to leave Thursday's Mass with "happy memories" of Scotland's Catholics coming together and "supporting one another".

That feeling of solidarity at Bellahouston reached out to Catholics from around the world.

Among those it touched was Sandeep Jose and his two friends, all Roman Catholics from the Kerala region of India.

They had travelled to Bellahouston from Aberdeen were they now work in nursing jobs.

Sandeep said: "This is the first time we will have seen the Pope. He's not just a national figure but a global citizen and we should support him for peace and for his blessings."

Happy faces

Another pilgrim, Eloi, had travelled with friends from Angola to attend the Mass.

He said: "I'm really excited to see so many people here and it makes me feel closer to God. That's why I have travelled to the UK.

Image caption The service was conducted in evening sunshine at Bellahouston park

"I can see everyone's faces are really, really happy, which makes me very happy."

As Eloi and thousands of other pilgrims waited for the Pontiff's arrival, a succession of entertainments were played out from the PA system and stage.

Most passed with varying degrees of applause until a small woman from West Lothian appeared at about 1540 BST.

Susan Boyle, the Britain's Got Talent finalist who became a global phenomenon in just over a year, caused massive excitement.

She did not disappoint her many fans among the crowd, starting with the song that made her famous, I Dreamed a Dream, and finishing on the hymn, How Great Thou Art.

But not even a superstar could have upstaged the person everyone had come to see - and just before 1700 BST he finally arrived.

Image caption Maria Tyszczak, 11 months, was presented to the Pope

The first glimpse of the Popemobile was greeted with a huge, thunderous cheer, which spread across the crowd in waves as more people realised the Pontiff had arrived.

As the vehicle made its way among the faithful, it slowed to a stop and what followed will surely be one of the most iconic images of the whole Papal visit.

Dressed in pink, 11-month-old Maria Tyszczak was lifted from the crowd by one of the security escorts and presented to Pope Benedict.

He kissed her before the child was returned to her mother, Marzenia, who is originally from Poland but lives in Glasgow.

Baby Maria will not remember the moment, but her family will never let her forget.

Evening sunshine

Across the crowd, faces beamed and eyes fixated as the Pontiff finally took his place on the Altar for Mass.

The service itself was elegant, organised and bathed in early evening sunshine.

Its highlight, the Homily, allowed Pope Benedict to finally address the faithful directly - free from any outside controversy or media interpretation.

Image caption Superstar Susan Boyle entertained the pilgrims at the park

It was here that he used the strongest words of his visit, so far, to attack those "who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse".

Religion, he said, was "in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect" and he urged those gathered to help promote it among the wider public.

As the service drew to a close, Pope Benedict left the Altar to massed cheering at about 1900 BST, pausing to acknowledge some children.

And so, after months of preparation and hours of waiting on the day, it was over.

The crowd began to melt away, treated to some final songs from Susan Boyle and another local hero, Michelle McManus.

With Pope Benedict now in England for the next leg of his state visit, the spotlight leaves Scotland and its Catholics.

But what will be his lasting legacy?

In the 28 years between Scotland's two Papal visits, the country has changed significantly and Catholicism has found itself, like other branches of Christianity, under threat from encroaching secularism.

The Bellahouston Mass, however, underlines that there are still many thousands of Catholics devoted to their religion.

If the Pope's visit has reaffirmed or reawakened their faith, then there is every chance the Catholic Church in Scotland will survive and thrive in some shape or form for years to come.

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