LAST WEEK I was invited to be part of the entourage for His Holiness’ World Youth Day visit to Spain. It was an honour and a privilege, and I was even allowed to bring two companions on the trip. Fr O’ Shea and Fr Doyle were only too happy to tag along. Both of them were delighted to be away together. Indeed, they have a reputation for being almost inseparable, and are affectionately known in their local parish as “the Siamese twins.”
There is great excitement as we land in Madrid. Fr O’Shea keeps laughing and nudging Fr Doyle while rubbing his hands and saying “a weekend away for the boys.” Fr O’ Shea’s eyes are shining with delight, and he keeps talking about the big shopping trip they have planned.
Later, before mass, we are ushered in to greet his Holiness. He is resplendent in white and gold. I greet him with the traditional fist tap, and he responds with “Dude.”
Then we are introduced to the Archbishop of Madrid who delights us with stories of Pope John Paul II in his World Youth Days, and how he was almost more like a rock star than a Pope. His Holiness nods politely throughout, and then attempts to turn the conversation on to something else, but the Archbishop is only getting warmed up and he talks about the adulation John Paul II dealt with. He smiles at his Holiness. His Holiness says nothing.
When the Archbishop leaves, his Holiness complains about the fact that there are no peanut M&Ms in his room, despite them being listed on his rider.
Today’s mass is in jeopardy. His Holiness has pulled a muscle in his back after attempting to throw a television set out of his hotel room window. Fr Doyle is drafted in to help him from his room. A cup of tea and a chat with Fr Doyle energises his Holiness and he is “back in the game.”
After Mass, the Archbishop and I discuss the subject of Papal branding with Fr Doyle and Fr O’Shea. The Archbishop is still regaling us with tales of “the rock and roll Pope.” Fr O’Shea suggests that what his Holiness needs to do is to create a seminal moment which will blaze into everybody’s consciousness forever. He cites the example of John Paul II’s address in Ireland in 1979. He turns to Fr Doyle, “Remember when he said ‘Young people of Ireland, I love you’.” Everyone smiles at the memory.
“Except it sounded like ‘I lof you’,” says Fr O’Shea. “I lof you. I lof you,” he keeps saying over and over while looking at Fr Doyle. Fr O’Shea’s voice trembles at the memory of it “I love you,” he says with a catch in his throat. Then for some odd reason he bolts from the room. Fr Doyle smiles.
“Memory is a powerful thing,” says the Archbishop, and we all nod in agreement.
Later that night his Holiness attempts to set fire to a lounge chair.
Spain is loving his Holiness. They are turning out in their millions. In turn his Holiness is loving Fr Doyle who is now his constant companion, tea maker, and unofficial body guard.
Meanwhile, Fr O’Shea is becoming increasingly morose. Maybe he is coming down with something. “We were supposed to go shopping,” he says gloomily at one point.
That night his Holiness invites us all over to his room to help him tip over a wardrobe.
Millions turn out at Mass at Madrid airport. His Holiness wears his special going away shades. The climactic mass is a roaring success.
Back stage his Holiness thanks everybody. Then he asks Fr Doyle to return to Rome with him as his special aide. Fr Doyle is gobsmacked. So is Fr O’Shea. It is a very moving moment. Even Fr O’Shea’s eyes are welling with tears. He is such a sensitive soul. I pat him on the shoulder in a fatherly manner, “Don’t worry,” I say “when we get home I’ll make sure you get a really nice transfer too.”
His Holiness celebrates the end of his trip by attempting to flush a full toilet roll down a toilet.
On the plane home Fr O’Shea drinks a little much more than is necessary, and keeps running to the bathroom to have a little cry. Proof indeed that the emotional impact of a Papal tour extends far beyond its final Mass.