Roy SmithRoy Smith (right) was the Papal Visit Co-ordinator for St Thomas of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church, Grays, facilitating an exhaustive itinerary for members of the church community to attend a number of events during Pope Benedict XVI’s recent historic visit to the UK.

Transformation Thurrock interviewed Roy about the trips. At the outset, Roy wanted to emphasise, “These thoughts are our own immediate impressions. We naturally cannot speak for our whole congregation!”

TT Which bits of the Pope’s visit to the UK did folk from St Thomas’s attend and where were the held?

IMG0165RS We went to Glasgow on 16 September; Hyde Park on 18 September; and Cofton Park in Birmingham on 17 September. Also, some of St Thomas’ young people attended Westminster Cathedral on the morning of Saturday 18 September.

TT How many pilgrims went from Grays along to these events? How many people were there all together at these events?

RS Just one person went to Glasgow from Grays, but a party of 150 went to Hyde Park. Then 15 went to Birmingham. There were about 65,000 people at Glasgow; 80,000 at Hyde Park; and 60,000 in Birmingham.

TT What was it like seeing Benedict XVI in the flesh?

RS It was awesome – uplifting.

TT What happened at the events?

IMG0887RS We celebrated Mass at Glasgow and was part of a Prayer Vigil at Hyde Park, to prepare for beatification Mass at Cofton Park, when Cardinal John Henry Newman was beatified (i.e. made “blessed” – one step from being declared a Saint).

TT What was the main thrust of Benedict’s homilies?

RS He made speeches everywhere he went. My lasting impression was the homily at Cofton Park. The whole experience was very moving, and for me the heart of his homily was this: “And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than
Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: ‘I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it’.* On this day when DSC00595the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.”

TT What impact do you thing the Pope’s visit has had on the UK’s Roman Catholic Church?

RS The Pope encouraged us in our faith, and in our values.

TT Do you think his visit has had an influence beyond the Roman Catholic Church?

RS Yes, and I look forward to reading about it in this weekend’s papers!

IMG0200TT One aspect of Benedict’s message has been to highlight the demise of Christianity as a societal foundation in the UK, and the rise of atheistic secularism. Do you think this viewpoint might make a difference?

RS You might recall from past discussions at the Grays Leaders’ Prayer Breakfasts (which Roy and his wife Margaret host once a month) that we have long been alarmed at the erosion of ethical values in our land. We hope that Pope Benedict has rekindled the flame of standing up for our values.

TT What do you think will be the legacy of your visit for St Thomas’s and the nation?

RS We hope that we will be re-energised with renewed hope and commitment.

DSC00596TT What was the whole experience of seeing Benedict XVI like for you?

RS Uplifting and encouraging. Here’s some quotes from our friends:
“Hurrah! I am pleased to be English and Catholic. I am delighted that Pope Benedict has reaffirmed our values!”
“It was stomping good!”
“We had a great day on Saturday at Hyde Park, thanks to all your hard work!”
“Fantastic pilgrimage yesterday – feel alive!”

Roy adds that his wife Margaret & their daughter Isabel “were unable to be actual pilgrims, but the wonderful media coverage enabled them to be virtual pilgrims – and to feel they were there”.


For photos of the Papal visit by Karen McGoldrick, Pilgrim leader to Hyde Park, please go to Watch it by clicking ‘slide show’.

* From “The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390”.

For more information see:

Pictures (top to bottom):

  • Roy Smith
  • St Thomas’s banner (pic by Tracy O’Shea)
  • Some of the pilgrims embarking from Grays station
  • Pope Benedict XVI in Edinburgh
  • Photo taken by Grays pilgrim of the Pope leading Mass
  • Aerial view of the Glasgow event
  • Frontpiece: Benedict at Glasgow