Pique n' your interest 

Faithful flock to Toronto

Hidden in the darkened recesses of my parent's basement, among the Christmas decorations, the "priceless" antiques and fading school report cards, is a pope scope.

For the Catholics in the crowd who have seen the Pope, you might know what I'm talking about.

The pope scope is a cardboard periscope, fashioned by some marketing guru and sold to the masses on any Papal visit.

Our pope scope has been in the basement for the past 18 years collecting dust since the last time Pope John Paul II came to visit Toronto.

I was eight at the time of that esteemed visit and, like the pope scope itself, my memories are a little faded. But I do remember the excitement and anticipation of the day.

My whole family drove the car to the subway and rode downtown (that in itself was big excitement), before heading out to a huge airforce base where the Pope was saying mass.

There were hundreds of thousands of others with the same idea, which required that his message be beamed across the crowds in big loud speakers. So while we couldn't actually see him during the mass, even with our handy pope scope, we could still hear him.

For the kids, the mass was more of a very long, very stationary picnic, complete with plaid blankets.

There were paper chairs for sale for those who couldn't sit on the ground, along with hundreds of others religious gimmicks set out on stands along the way.

Mass outside, regardless of who was saying it, was a treat indeed and a far cry from the vaulted cold church of Sunday morning.

The thing that stands out the most in my mind was not the words of wisdom from the Pope but rather his high-tech car - the Popemobile, a bullet-proof vehicle designed for his visits after an assassination attempt in May 1981.

We thought the Popemobile was great - not quite as cool as Kit from Knight Rider who actually talked but something far more interesting than dad's ancient Buick (although the Buick's eight-track kept us entertained on many a drive up to the cottage).

The Pope cruised through the crowds in his Popemobile after mass, waving to the hordes of the faithful.

Now he was actually close enough to see, even without the pope scope.

Everyone I knew was going to hear the Pope say that mass - all my classmates, my relatives and old family friends.

That just goes to show how small my eight-year-old world was at the time.

I thought almost everyone was Catholic. Why would I have thought any differently? It certainly seemed as though "everyone" was there as we made our way through the throngs of people.

Those were very innocent eyes looking through that pope scope.

My world suddenly got a lot bigger, both physically and mentally, when I moved to a small village outside of Glasgow, Scotland the following year.

There, half the village was Catholic, the other half Protestant.

Schools, pubs, and football teams were divided along those lines. Even colours determined religion, with green the traditional colour of the Glasgow Celtics, the Catholic football team, and blue for the Glasgow Rangers, the Protestant football team.

(If you ever go to Glasgow and somebody asks you if you like green or blue, they're really asking you in a backhanded way if you're Catholic or Protestant.)

The antagonism between the two teams, at least during the mid-80s when I lived there, was unlike any sporting rivalry I had seen before or have seen since.

Football supporters loathed the other side. Fans would get beaten up on a regular basis for wearing the wrong colours in the wrong part of town at the wrong time.

In that little confined village back then, few things defined us. Being either Catholic or Protestant was one of our defining characteristics.

It was a devastating moment when as a 12-year-old I realized that the IRA was Catholic too.

Until then I had simply assumed that they weren't because they were the bad guys.

The eyes weren't so innocent anymore, nor was my blind faith in the church.

Being any one religion gives a group a common base from which to come together - like some elite club.

Only Catholics can understand what the little white wafer tastes like. Only Catholics understand what's it's like to kneel before a priest and say confession. Only Catholics understand the importance of the Pope and his visits.

Eighteen years later, the Pope is coming to Canada again.

This time the Church is celebrating World Youth Day, a bi-annual event where youth from around the world meet and celebrate their faith and learn more about the Catholic Church.

Over half a million delegates will be in Toronto from July 22 to 28 and the culminating event will be the Papal mass at the same air force base at Downsview Lands. Organizers are expecting up to one million people there.

Despite his failing health, the Pope will say a few words at the mass.

Like any idol, he is revered wherever he goes.

There may be others out there like me, looking on this visit with wonder.

Even though I'm Catholic, I still can't figure out what it all means.

I won't be flying home to dust off the old pope scope for this visit.

I can see clearly enough without it.

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