The current Pope, Francis I, has not visited the UK. His two immediate predecessors did, John Paul II in 1982 and Benedict XVI in 2010. I was able to attend outdoor masses celebrated by both of them, the first at an airport in Coventry and the second in a park near Birmingham.
John Paul II’s visit in May 1982 included celebrations in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland. Our trip to Coventry was organized by Fisher House, the Cambridge University Chaplaincy. We left Cambridge at midnight and travelled by coach, by train and then on foot. We walked for miles in the dark. We ended up in our designated area, a rectangle about the size of three tennis courts, a long way from the altar. Each rectangle was cordoned off with rope and had space for maybe 150 people. Between each section there was enough space for the Pope Mobile to drive up and down and allow the congregation of 300,000 to see the His Holiness from fairly close up. The mass was in the morning and we were back in Cambridge in time for dinner that evening.
My food supplies for the entire trip consisted of a loaf of sliced brown bread made into sandwiches. Each sandwich contained the following: a slice of bread with peanut butter, a slice of bread with Philadelphia cream cheese and sliced cucumber in between the two. They lasted well, stored in nothing more than the bag that the bread came in. Packaging accessories like sandwich bags, cling-film and aluminium foil played no part in my student life. Nor did bottled water most of the time, but for this trip I had a single 1.5 litre bottle of Evian to last the 18 hours that I was away, possibly the first bottle of water I ever bought. In honour of the trip I christened the peanut butter, cream cheese and cucumber combination as the “Pope Sandwich”.
When I prepared for the overnight trip to Birmingham in 2010 for the mass celebrated by Benedict XVI my food supplies reflected how much I have changed since the 1980s. I brought a large picnic bag with enough supplies for three full meals, including two thermos flasks (one with cold milk, one with coffee), a bowl of cereal, bananas, apples, plastic pots from M&S with prepared rice and pasta salads, crisps and other snacks, six 50cl bottles of water and at least as many Pope Sandwiches as I had made in 1982. The sandwiches were made with both regular brown bread and wheat-free bread and consisted of the same three ingredients: peanut butter, cream cheese, cucumber. While preparing them I told my children (aged three and five at the time) about that 1982 papal visit and explained the derivation of the sandwich’s name. It has stuck in their minds and even produced a spin-off. My son likes cream cheese so will happily eat a Pope Sandwich. My daughter doesn’t, so her combination of peanut butter and cucumber has a slightly different name: the Cardinal Sandwich.