Today has gone as well as we could possibly imagine.
We woke around 7.15am and got ourselves ready. There was a lovely continental breakfast prepared but both Kate and I ate very little due to nerves. We left the Embassy just after 9.00am and stopped en route to the Vatican, at Piazza Pia for a photo opportunity with St Peters in the distance. I made a very short statement regarding our forthcoming visit and expressed my gratitude to Francis Campbell, the British Ambassador to the Vatican, and his staff for making us feel as if we were part of their family.
We arrived in plenty of time for the Papal audience and were delighted to find we were seated in the ‘Prima Fila’- the first row. Clarence, Francis and Monsingneur Charlie Burns, a colourful Glaswegian who teaches at the seminary and looks after the Ambassador’s spiritual well being were seated immediately behind us. It was extremely sunny and I have to admit that Kate and I were struggling somewhat with the heat in our dark suits but Francis rescued us with an umbrella and some water and following that some heavy cloud rolled in, cooling us down.
The atmosphere in St Peter’s square was almost carnival like with up to 35,000 people there to see the Pope. He did not disappoint, driving slowly around the crowd in his open jeep, waving cheerfully. We were sombre in contrast given that we were there to ask Benedict to pray for Madeleine, although I am sure others were also there to get blessings for their loved ones. After this the Pontiff took his seat in front of approximately 30 cardinals, bishops and priests. One of the priests, Father Daniel Gallagher from the US, came up to us before the service and said some very kind words; that he was praying and everyone was praying for Madeleine daily.
The service started with a series of addresses from priests representing the various French, German, Italian, English, Spanish and Polish speaking congregations present. Each parish represented was mentioned and various bands, mainly German, played short pieces and a few choirs sang a verse and the large Polish contingent priests seated behind us wearing large yellow scarves tied like ribbons around theirs necks sang 3 or 4! At the end of this preamble the priest stated that the Pope was happy to tell us he was praying for the congregation, our families, our children and those who were suffering. These words seemed so poignant in the light of Madeleine’s abduction and naturally both Kate and I were, naturally, very emotional. The Pope’s actual address seemed to pass in a blur and I am looking forward to reading the actual transcript as I can remember very little of the actual words.
Following the completion of the Papal address in the different languages, Benedict individually greeted the other clergy on the dias. During this period Father Gallagher presented us with a small gift to remind us that he would pray daily for Madeleine and a cardinal also expressed similar sentiments. The Pope took approximately 20 minutes to meet other people in the Prima Fila before reaching us. It felt as if time stood still for a moment when the Pope looked into our faces and there was almost instant recognition and a change in his expression. He said he would pray for us, our family and Madeleine. Kate passed him a photograph of Madeleine and he blessed this and would pray for her safe returning. The meeting was more personal than we could have imagined given the number of people there and will help us sustain our hope and determination to find Madeleine.
The press conference followed shortly afterwards and was very well attended. We will give more details tomorrow as we are very tired following our visit and hope to get an early night before planning our next trip.