This year's Greenbelt festival 'one of the best ever' - 3 September 2007

 More than 22,000 people including many Catholics took part in the 34th Greenbelt Festival, held at Cheltenham racecourse last weekend.

A huge tented village springs up each year as many people come for the whole four days of the event. Colour is all around, from giant balloons wafting in the sky to cheerful clothes and an enormous variety of hats.

They came from all over the country, all ages, creeds and colours, from Scotland to Plymouth and overseas visitors came from New Zealand, America and Europe.

CAFOD had a stand there and Doug Lowe, a volunteer from Taunton, said: "It's a marvellous occasion. This year we're getting signatures for our petition to persuade Argos and Goldsmiths to sign up to use only clean gold in their businesses. We're well on our way to our target of 1000 signatures from Greenbelt." Volunteers from the Forest of Dean parishes helped man the CAFOD stand.

Father David Ryan, from the Immaculate Conception parish in Stroud, offered two masses and he was enthusiastic about the event, "It was really good, the two masses went well with congregations of over 100 for each. Tony Wadley from St Gregory's in Cheltenham and the young people provided the music and we had a talk by one of CAFOD's people on living simply, one of the themes of their stand this year."

Elly Turner, an Education Officer for LIFE said: "Our stand has had a good number of visitors. There has been great interest in the LIFE Fertility Care programme where people have found IVF has been unavailable or has failed."

In the huge exhibition marquee, some 70 organisations had stands. "Our starting number a few years back was 10 or 12, this year we've turned away several people who wanted stands." an organiser said, clearly delighted with the huge footfall the exhibition was attracting.

There was a great variety of music on offer, from pop groups to classical, Sir John Tavener, who wrote "Song for Athene" gave a talk.

Catholic Concern for Animals shared a stand with their Anglican counterparts, the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals - and gave away copies of The Ark and other materials. Deborah Jones of Catholic Concern for Animals said, "This all helped to raise awareness among Christians that animals are God's creatures, not ours."

Many topics got an airing at the variety of workshops. One that drew a large audience was an interview by with Sister Francis Dominica, the founder of Helen and Douglas House Hospices in Oxford. Her comments on how the young deal with death were listened to with great attention. One member of the audience said he was amazed at the difference in public attitudes to sex and death over a century. 100 years ago everyone spoke about death in a matter of fact way but sex was just not mentioned. 100 years later people speak freely about sex but death is a taboo subject which has almost been sanitised out of conversation. Sister Francis agreed, saying that the more sophisticated society becomes the further it distances itself from reality.

Overall, Greenbelt judged this year's festival one of their best, good weather helped everyone to enjoy their visit. The event raised £60,000 which will be donated to charities such as those which combat injustice around the world.

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