Radio Wales

I WAS THERE

‘When Pope John Paul II came to Wales’

Radio Wales: Thu 4 Mar 2021, 6:30pm

Mai Davies reunites those who could say ‘I Was There’ at a moment in Welsh history. She asks her guests to recall the Papal visit of John Paul II in 1982.

Huge crowds gathered in Cardiff on June 2nd, 1982 to see the Pontiff become the first reigning Pope to visit Wales. Addressing 150,000 people at Pontcanna Fields, the Polish-born pontiff began the Mass in Welsh. The Pope’s message: “Bendith Duw arnoch” – “the blessing of God be on you” – was received with rapturous applause.

Three people who were there on that historic day share their memories and reflections. Broadcaster and singer-songwriter Frank Hennessy recalls how he was asked to compose and perform an official song of welcome for the Pope.

“For me it was a great day,” Frank remembers. “There was a lot of excitement running up, and relief that it went well. I can still remember every minute, every second of the day. I suppose it was the highlight of my career.”

Retired teacher Carys Whelan recalls how she was asked to give a reading at the Papal Mass: “It gave me goose pimples, I couldn’t believe they wanted me to do it,” she says. “I lost so much sleep before the big day. I went to a boutique in Bridgend to get myself a good dress. It usually did wedding dresses. They were fascinated with me as I had to get a smart dress for the Pope! I did the Welsh reading – from the Second Epistle of Peter, about coming to the mountain of God. Another time I had to read it at Mass a few years later and I couldn’t read it. I was overcome with emotion. It all came flooding back to me.”

And Canon Mike Evans – then a young Deacon – remembers how he served on the altar that day right next to the Pontiff: “I was there at the Pope’s side the whole way through. I have really happy memories of the day – the youth mass at Ninian Park was incredible.”