The conclusion to John Paul II's long pontificate inevitably brings to mind that weekend in late spring when the Pope arrived in Liverpool during his historic visit to England in 1982. I was 19 at the time and in my first year at the University studying the city's social life as well as a zoology degree.
It would prove to be a memorable weekend as I had spent the previous night with the American blues legends Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee after their performance in the city and had left the post performance party around 3.am. The next morning was beautifully warm, and so collecting my camera I walked into the city taking up a position close to the entrance of the Metropolitan Cathedral .
Although over 90 minutes late the good humoured crowd around the Cathedral provided a very noisy & typically warm 'scouse' welcome as a fit and active Pope alighted from the ‘Popemobile’, showing no effects from the assassination attempt of the previous year.
. As the Pope attended a service and had dinner at the Archbishop's residence it was late in the afternoon when he appeared again on the raised piazza behind the cathedral.
I had walked into the city centre and returned to see police preventing further access to the steps of the now crowded piazza. I paused at the steps where a large group of people had gathered. At that moment the policeman in charge said "Alright!, a few more can go up", gesturing to a small group on my left, which, with a deft skip and turn of pace I joined, slipping passed the police line and racing up the piazza steps. The Pope arrived flanked by Archbishop Derek Warlock and Cardinal Basil Hume. The Archbishop and Cardinal seemed extremely happy if a little overwhelmed by the reception they and the Pontiff received. I remember contrasting this with the television coverage of his arrival in London earlier that week where the crowds had appeared to consist of a small number of bemused and curious onlookers.
The Cathedral's piazza is fairly small and this gave an informal and intimate feel to the proceedings, this was reflected in the conversational manner in which they addressed the crowd. The much quoted ability of the Pope to engage with young people was clear to see, especially when he recalled conversations he had had when Archbishop of Cracow with his Liverpudlian counterpart about the city, its people and the Cathedral they were then building and how pleased he was to be here and finally see it. Cardinal Hume continued with, amongst other things, recollections of his time at Stoneyhurst, Archbishop Warlock also talked at length with a fondness for the city and its people that is found in people who migrate to an area from choice rather than being born there.
After the Papal group had left and the crowd had begun to disperse I crossed the street to a small cafe in the bowels of the Student Union which, due to its location opposite the Cathedral, had been turned into the press centre for the day.
I left the building as darkness descended, the lights and the noise of the traffic now flowing around the Cathedral heralding a return to normality for the city. As I passed through the now deserted lobby of the building I was confronted by row upon row of typewriters and phones, installed for the day's event. The whole area was scattered with paper containing the industrious scribblings of the many reporters that had been present, possibly containing the draft versions of the reports that would appear in the world's newspapers the next day. It struck me then that I had witnessed a truly global event - a hughly significant one when considering our land's turbulent history where papal matters are concerned.
It was certainly an unforgettable day, the image I have of the Pope during that visit, contrasts so much from his later years of ill-health and infirmity it is easy to forget the tireless energy which was such a characteristic of the first half of his papacy, That is the lasting image I shall keep of John Paul II and I suspect that is the way he would wish to be remembered also.