10 October 2018, The Tablet

The suffering Pope

Canonisation – Pope Paul VI

The suffering Pope

Pope Paul VI greets the crowd as he visits the Verano cemetery in Rome 1973


Although I am not particularly happy with the canonisation of popes until they have been dead at least 50 years, I am sure that St Pope Paul VI – as he will be proclaimed tomorrow – was a holy man. I met him, and felt it.

My father, George Speaight, better known for his books about toy theatres and Punch and Judy shows, had edited a glossy book on St Peter’s, and in 1969 his contact in the Vatican had arranged a brief audience for him and his family.

It had more than a touch of the royal court about it. The Pope sat higher than the four of us, on something like a throne; we all wore black; my mother and I covered our hair, our arms, our knees; we each kissed his ring. I expect the Pope found these customs imprisoning, rather more than we did; for us it was the pomp and elegance that celebrates a very special occasion.

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