Tomorrow morning will see the start of the Pope’s first ever state visit to the United Kingdom. The Pope will begin his tour in Edinburgh before visiting Glasgow, London and Birmingham over the next four days. The main event of the Pope’s visit will be the Beautification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a Victorian Catholic theologian revered by Anglicans and Catholics alike.
The Pope’s open views on Gay rights, abortion, contraception and his dismissive reaction to the allegations of child abuse by Catholic priests have sparked a great deal of controversy over his visit. A ‘Protest the Pope’ campaign is organising multiple events, culminating in a rally in London on the 18th. 50 public figures, such as Stephen Fry and authors Terry Pratchett and Phillip Pullman have signed a letter sent to The Guardian objecting to the Pope’s visit.
Up to 10,000 tickets remain unsold for the Beautification of the Cardinal in Birmingham on Sunday falling far below the Church’s anticipated sales. It is undeniable that the Pontiffs standpoint on many issues is out of step with modern Catholics but the Church is blaming the low turnout on the early start rather than ticket prices or protest.
Pilgrims will have to set out at 2am or 3am to board official coaches to the event in Cofton Park. In contrast the Prayer Vigil in Hyde Park has almost sold out of its £5 tickets and is close to its 80,000 capacity. Access to public events can be organised through attachment to church parish groups who will provide a pilgrim pack and pass.
The cost of this visit has been much discussed, as a state visit the government need cover the cost of accommodation and travel for the Pope and his retinue. Costs are expected to fall between £10 and £12 million for the expenses with the possibility of rising to almost £20million. Policing costs, including security at the three open air events, are expected to cost around £1.5million, met by the state out of existing police budgets. Many have questioned the expense at a time when the deficit still stands as a gaping hole and public services are being slashed to patch it.
The Church will be contributing approximately £7 million to the event, paying for the event costs of the liturgical celebrations and pastoral events. They have even sent out the order to man the phones and have set aside a budget to deal with any influx of conversions after the event.
Full cost will not be known until the pontiff’s departure on the 19th but the Government is anticipating rooting out a fair few pennies for the honour of this state visit. With such expenses it’s hardly surprising this is the first of its kind, perhaps past governments have favoured their economic over their spiritual well being.
A detailed itinerary can be found on The Guardian’s online interactive guide.