County's Catholics are looking forward to Papal visit
Cambridgeshire Catholics are planning a pilgrimage to hear Pope Benedict XVI
The Pope will be visiting the UK between 16 and 19 September 2010.
Catholics lucky enough to have been chosen by ballot will be heading to one of three venues to hear the pontiff.
One of them, Nicola Marks, will be leading a pilgrimage from St Philip Howard Parish in Cambridge, to the Mass in Birmingham on Sunday 19 September.
She described her faith as the "bedrock" of her life and said: "I think experiences like this have the power to really change people."
Brought up in the Catholic faith, Nicola explained that it was core to everything she believes in and how she lives her life.
"It's a real experience to see the Pope," she said.
"He's the leader of the Church and I want to support his visit to the United Kingdom.
"I want to hear what he has to say and to learn from him."
Every Catholic parish in the country was given an allocation of seats for the Pope's visit. It was then a case of putting your name forward and hoping to be picked by ballot.
Nicola was thrilled to have been chosen.
'Preach and teach'
For many Catholics this visit will be their one and only chance to see the Pope. But Nicola has attended a number of Papal audiences including Mass at the Vatican.
So, although tens of thousands are expected to attend each of the three Masses in the UK - in Glasgow, London and Birmingham - Nicola knows what to expect.
"Even if you are quite a way away, you can still see the Pope - and certainly you can hear his words," she said.
"With the previous Pope, when he was talking, it felt like he was talking to you, although there were millions of people.
"I just think that being there, and hearing him preach and teach from the scriptures is an experience you should have if you can."
Gabriela Stables is from the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs in Royston. She will be attending the service in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday.
"I was brought up in the Diocese of Milan, which is as Catholic as you can be," said Gabriela.
"Everything revolved around the church. Even the entertainment. We had a wonderful village theatre run by the nuns and a cinema run by the Oratory.
"Everything was Catholic."
However, when she came to England in her 20s, 50 years ago, Gabriela said that she began questioning her faith, and gradually stopped practicing.
Then she and her husband lost one of their children, and that was the turning point for her.
She explained that her faith helped her through that experience, and she has been practicing ever since.
Love and respect
"It was not a renewal for me," Gabriela explained. "It was a new thing. A real, real faith."
Why is she going to see the Pope?
"Well, really the only answer is because he is the Pope.
"I was just so pleased when I heard he was coming to England, and delighted that it is a state visit. That just makes it so much more important.
"It will be an occasion for joy and I want to be joyful.
"I want him to know that there is much love and much respect for him in our communities.
"And it may give the Catholic Church a newer image.
"I'm not saying a better image, but it needs a new image and to be known for what it is, and not for what people think it is."
Lucy Underwood was also brought up a Catholic.
However the 26-year-old, who worships at Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge, had her own moment of conviction.
"There comes a point, I suppose for me it was when I was a teenager, and I'd encountered people who didn't believe or who believed other things, and I made a decision: 'Yes, this isn't just something my parents do. This is something I believe in'," she explained.
Lucy will represent her parish at the Beatification Mass in Birmingham on 19 September.
The ceremony will beatify the 19th Century English convert John Newman. It is the third of the four stages needed to turn the Cardinal into a saint.
Lucy said it was important for her to see the Pope.
"The office makes him important," she said. "I also think he's a great man and a wise man.
"I've read the things he's written, I've heard him speak before.
"I want to be there in person, to be part of that event along with a lot of other English Catholics, and show my support for him by being there."
For Lucy being a Catholic is at the heart of her being.
"To me my Catholic faith means knowing Christ. That might not mean much to a lot of people.
"It means hope. It means being loved. It means learning to love.
"I say at the core, that's what it's all about."
She explained that having to be at Cambridge's coach station at 3am on 19 September to get to Birmingham in time for the Mass was a very small price to pay for the privilege of seeing the Pope.
"I hope that what I see and hear, like other pilgrimages, will help me to deepen my faith and renew it," she concluded.
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