AMONG the privileged 2,000 to join the Pope inside Westminster Abbey for a historic ecumenical service was Father Denis Blackledge from Corpus Christi, Boscombe.

“I felt more proud than ever to be a Catholic as I saw Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams embrace so warmly in a sign of deepfelt peace and reconciliation,” he said.

“What strikes me about Pope Benedict are his simplicity, serenity and smile. “He’s a deeply humble man and came across as a man of great learning, but tinged with a warm humanity. He showed his ability to touch and move people of all ages.”

“If it’s done all this for me, a priest, to help refresh my own faith, I wonder how much Pope Benedict has done quietly for so many others, whatever their faith or background.

“I’m especially pleased that he spoke the very strong way he did about the awful impact of clerical child abuse on the Catholic Church, but I’m even more impressed that he spent time quietly behind the scenes with five adults who had suffered such abuse. “And goodness knows the blessings that will flow from that quiet time at Lambeth Palace with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

The Rev Alison Overton from Rosebery Park Baptist Church, who represented the Southern Counties Baptist Association in the Abbey, told me of initial doubts about going. She said: “I had heard of the disparaging remarks the Pope had recently made about the ordination of women, and am saddened by that and the impression given that unity in the worldwide church is all about other denominations returning to Rome – presumably renouncing all our convictions about doctrine and practice with our tails between our legs!

“If only the Pope could experience the love and acceptance we share as we work together in Churches Together in Boscombe!”

She added: “Nevertheless, I’m sure it will be seen as a worthwhile step on the ecumenical road, even if only to echo the practice of unity which really takes place at the grass roots of local church partnerships of many different kinds all over the country.”

Benjamin Theobald, a student for the diocese of Portsmouth, attended the Beatification Mass at Cofton Park and helped distribute Holy Communion to the pilgrims. “To process through the sea of people was a humbling experience and to come into contact with people of all ages from literally every parish in the country showed me that faith is still strong in this country,” he said.

“I was initially apprehensive as to what kind of reception the Holy Father would receive, but I was also confident that, when people heard him and truly encountered this wonderful, gentle and humble man, they would be won over.

“Many have said they feel strengthened by his visit and I feel the same.”