Choreographed Papal baby blessings
The day of the Pope’s visit to London was all about the protests and marches for us. That is what we had gone to photograph, that is what we were interested in and, certainly in my case, that is where our affinities lay. But to turn away from an opportunity to photograph the pilgrims and papal supporters in Hyde Park as well as the Pope himself as he drove past would have been churlish to say the least.
So, protest over, we headed back down Piccadilly and through the park.
The atmosphere along his route and at Hyde Park corner, where we ended up, was wonderful and yet very strange. The blind devotion and unquestioning belief that the pilgrims brought with them was mixed with only a smattering of curiosity from the occasional passerby and (surprisingly) very little anger from the few protestors present. It was all incredibly good humoured.
Blind devotion and unquestioning loyalty and belief scares me, and to be witnessing it first hand, standing amongst the crowds as they waited for his tardiness the Pope did put me slightly on edge. But as the hours passed and the crowds increased I started to enjoy the surreal elements to the occasion. The caricatures and two dimensional aspects of some of the people was amusing and the feeling of other worldliness only increased as the hours dragged by and the light began to fade.
The route that was marked out for the convoy opened up slightly into a sort of plaza as it came round Hyde Park Corner. We had wondered why as we stationed ourselves there, trying to anticipate the light and the photographic opportunities. Our curiosity was answered in a wonderfully surreal and cartoon-like moment as the convoy crawled towards us (three hours late). It was painfully slow, made up of all manner of vehicles, shrouded in mystery, officialdom and a suitably high level of ‘sinister’. Police bikes, black limos with tinted windows, coaches, ambulances, suited body guards, cars with huge pod-like 360 degree cameras sticking out of them all crawled past until finally, dwarfed and almost pathetic, was the Pope mobile. And inside, embalmed in his goldfish bowl was the Pope, a frail old man, waving like a puppet to his adoring, blindly devoted fans, hunger, impatience and sore feet all forgotten and forgiven.
Then right in front of us, perfectly choreographed, began a dance straight out of a cartoon or Monty Python film. The convoy stopped and creatures of fear and darkness oozed away from their positions that had surrounded His Frailness and marched, jogged, slithered towards the crowd in perfect harmony with each other, rhythmically tight, perfectly synchronized. They disappeared from view.
In the meantime the minions left behind helped slide His Shakiness’ window open. He pivoted up onto his feet, and for a moment looked like he was making a bid for freedom, head hanging out into the fraught and dangerous world beyond his bullet proof glass.
Anxiety and fervour, with a touch of hysteria was spreading from the crowd about thirty metres from us, exactly where the men in black had disappeared from sight. Then suddenly and fluidly they emerged, jog jog jog, back towards their lord and master, holding aloft their prey, victim and sacrifice – a small, tiny baby, somehow, miraculously not crying.
The baby was held aloft, offered to the Pope who was at this stage still hanging out of the window. His hand meandered out past his face and tried to touch the baby’s forehead forming the shape of an uncertain cross. The baby was thrust higher as his face lowered and the blesséd ritual was completed with an attempt at a kiss, dry or wet, I know not.
Once more the window was closed, the Pope sighed and fell into his seat, basking in the cheering and devotion. The host of black suits and sunglasses flowed back towards the baby’s mother. Silently positions were resumed, vehicles began crawling again as the taste of tension fell a notch or two and the beings merged and flowed, back behind the tinted glass of their vehicles.
No more than thirty seconds had passed, and as the sun was setting, red behind the trees, the convoy literally drove into it.