“My breathtaking moments while planning the Pope’s visit to York”

Newsreader TONY LAWTON remembers being part of the organizing team for the Pope’s visit to York which took place 40 years ago on May 31, 1982.

However, his actual planning certainly had his heart-stopping moments.

Traffic problems were always on the agenda.

At a meeting at the police headquarters in Fulford Road, this was the only item on the agenda.

Before the meeting itself, police viewed a video recording of the previous papal visit to Dublin. I arrived a little early and have a clear memory of ashen-faced police officers, led by their liaison, Inspector Bennington, coming out of their viewing of the Dublin performance. He told us afterwards that the Irish authorities had taken a distinctly lighthearted “do-it-yourself” approach to potential traffic problems in their beautiful city and as a result the Gardai were still grappling with their consequences 48 hours later.

It was quickly resolved that York would need a much tougher “hands-on” approach. As it happens, five satellite car parks have been established in a ring around York, combined with well-organized bus arrangements and stringent traffic control measures in the city itself.

READ MORE: Remembering the Pope’s £1million visit to York in 1982

I was then informed in good faith that the Inland Revenue, with its traditional devotion to the public good, had engaged one of its officials on the holiday of the visit, to scour York in search of local farmers concerned about supplementing their income by undermining official parking lots – and I presume, by carefully reviewing their subsequent tax returns to see if they had forgotten to include those single receipts.

As mentioned in your report, the visit took place after the outbreak of the Falklands War. It was another headache for the organisers, but financially alarming for the commercial organizations involved, many of which had invested large sums in the event, in connection with the production of souvenirs, etc. Most of them had of course taken out insurance policies but had not thought about whether their policy contained a war exclusion clause. Insurance coverage was not the only concern regarding the effects of the Falklands War. Technically, the pope was a head of state, and official protocol normally indicated the representation of the armed forces. On this occasion, as might be expected, the MOD was hesitant to know whether its official representatives should attend. Predictably, the final decision was a red herring: Service representatives could attend, but not in uniform – and they did. Fortunately, however, this judgment of Solomon did not apply to the Regimental Band of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards who duly performed before the vast assembly in full uniform – either that or the MOD’s message never reached them. reached.

Images from the Pope’s visit to York on May 31, 1982

Regardless of traffic management and diplomatic protocol issues, the presence of approximately 200,000 people assembled on the Knavesmire created a myriad of practical problems, not the least of which were those related to public health, ranging from the supply of toilets to expected births and deaths.

The statisticians had solemnly warned us that with a collection of such figures in the same place for several hours, we would have to anticipate both. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but they had to be predicted. Fortunately, neither was ever needed. On a more relaxed note, I have a vivid memory of a group of young Down syndrome patients with their accompanying nuns. Both seemed completely delighted. It was a very moving sight. As someone who isn’t normally drawn to large crowds as they don’t always show the UK public at their best, it was refreshing to have seen and remembered an event where everyone was definitely happy and on his best behavior.

About Bernard Kraft

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