12 September 2018, The Tablet

I stayed in a snug hotel and sloped off on jaunts with the coach drivers to Gavarnie

Christopher Howse's Notebook


Thousands of cans of Stella Artois had been prepared for distribution gratis to the world's press attending the Eucharistic Congress in Lourdes in 1981. But the world’s press, apart from me and a thin few, did not come. They stayed away because Pope John Paul II didn’t attend, as planned, since he had been shot only 10 weeks earlier.

I did my best on the Stella, stacked in a room with a Telex machine and empty tables, but I couldn’t make much impression on the tinny mountain. And I find that I wrote in a pious tone that, “in a way, the Pope’s absence was a blessing. The people were, after all, supposed to be there because of the Eucharist, not to take photographs of the Pope”.

Relating his absence and his own broken body to the theme of the congress, “Jesus Christ, bread broken for a new world”, the Pope declared: “Providence invites me to offer this in sacrifice, as do many other sick and disabled.”

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