Did you mean to die like that?
Was that a mistake?
Or did you know your messy death
Would be a record breaker?
The irony of our benighted age is that the world's biggest celebrity is probably not any crowd-pleasing singer or movie star but a hardliner who tells you not to do a whole lot of things. (There are many agitated about this fact, I gather.) More curious still, he is not an inveterate attention-seeker to begin with, having celebrity thrust upon him by the college of cardinals. Be that as it may, there is no bully pulpit that beats being the Holy Father, whose only real fashion conceit are trademark red shoes. In 1995, Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor Pope John Paul II secured a place for our faith in the record books by gathering 4-5 million people in Luneta Park in Manila for World Youth Day--the largest crowd ever gathered for an occasion if memory serves me right. Despite being outwardly less charismatic, Benedict isn't too shabby, either, as his recent trip to the UK was the first ever official visit by a pontiff.
I needn't get into the well-known, gory details of the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England that stretches nearly half a millennium. So, it was remarkable that this change of heart would occur at so late a date. Not only was PM David Cameron on hand to greet the Benedict XVI, but also his predecessors Gordon Brown, Tony Blair (the controversial Catholic convert), John Major, and Margaret Thatcher. Though this wholehearted admirer of the current pontiff is miffed at Blair bigtime, I guess this show of force signifies the pulling power of His erstwhile emissary.
His visit was remarkably well-received as you can gather from the media coverage. The roads nearby were closed for most of the past few days where I live--a stone's throw from Victoria Station and Parliament. Many of the events in London were thus within easy walking distance: He held a joint service with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (head of the Church of England) on Friday at Westminster Abbey, and another on Saturday morning in Westminster Cathedral (the mother church of Roman Catholicism in the country). On Saturday afternoon, us pilgrims had the chance to see the Holy Father ourselves in Hyde Park. Needless to say, this state visit saw a fantastic turnout for the Pope as the faithful were out in force. On Sunday, he headed to the city of my alma mater, Birmingham, to say a mass for the beatification of John Henry Newman in Cofton Park.
You may be asking by now, "Where's the IPE here?" Saving souls is a highly organized and global enterprise. It certainly helps if the big boss can pull the punters in like the current pontiff. Sometime ago, I noted how Catholicism went ahead the Anglicanism as the largest religion here in the UK in terms of regular church attendance. The sad story, of course, is that Catholicism didn't "overtake" Anglicanism. Rather, attendance to the services of the former fell more slowly than that to the latter. However, the BBC points out that we may be reversing this trend as attendance has increased in the most recent recorded year after several years of drops. Also, the BBC's data sources indicate that Anglicanism was overtaken earlier than indicated in the service attendance sweepstakes, but for what it's worth:
The proof of the pudding will be in the partaking of the bread and wine in the near future. Who knows, maybe returning to the million mark is within reach. While Africa, Asia are certainly growth markets for Catholicism (and perhaps outer space), it's key to avoid squandering gains built over literally hundreds of years in Europe. May the enthusiasm shown for the once-in-a-lifetime visit of a frail older gentleman have good repercussions in Britannia. Don't you get me wrong now...