Pope John Paul – soon to be Blessed John Paul – had a special affinity with youth. In scenes that made history, vast crowds of young people greeted in him his travels – in America, in Africa, in Paris and Rome and Warsaw…
His inauguration of World Youth Day created something new in Catholic life that has already become a tradition and will be enjoyed in 2011 with a sense of heritage behind it as people gather in Madrid.
So it is fitting that among the events marking his beatification in Britain is one that brings together members of a young drama group. They are presenting a play, “The Quality of Mercy,” which tells the story of a group of young pilgrims travelling together who are befriended by a kindly figure, Charlie, who helps them to discover some important things about themselves, about love, mercy, and God. The play will be presented in Oxford – right in the heart of this great university city – in the Newman Room in Rose Place, St Aldates.
When I dropped in to see a rehearsal the other day, I found dedication and enthusiasm. The play includes a soundtrack which, at one stage, features Papa JP’s voice: it was suddenly moving to hear it again: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!.” The theme of the play revolves around the message of God’s mercy.
One of the great and lasting gifts of Pope John Paul to the Church is the establishment of the Feast of Divine Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter each year, a feast which has rapidly gained popularity, along with the Divine Mercy picture, which is now seen worldwide in churches and schools and parish halls, and in private homes and on holy cards tucked into missals and prayer-books.
As the story of the play unfolds, we follow the characters on a journey to the shrine of Mannopello in Italy. They are a mixed bunch of young pilgrims, and they don’t all get on with one another – as they argue and talk, and cope with the various difficulties that come along, and as various factions develop, we begin to share in their journeying, and as the story unfolds, we begin to understand that a pilgrimage is more than a walk, more than a hike through the mountains and more than a gathering of people in a common project.
Some of the young people involved in this play were also involved in a production about St Thèrése last year, when the relics of St Thèrése were taken to various churches around Britain, drawing vast crowds. Some of them will also be looking forward to another major event this year, as they will be going to World Youth Day in Madrid.
The players are members of the Oratory parish in Oxford, and tickets for the play are available via the Oratory website: http://www.oxfordoratory.or.uk, and also from the Oxford Playhouse theatre 01865 305305.