The pope's visit to the UK comes at a priceImage: picture-alliance/ dpa
UK papal visit
September 10, 2010
The pope will visit the UK next week. Critics have slammed the visit as too costly. And as we hear in this postcard from Carol Allen in London, many are viewing the trip with resounding indifference.
According to a poll conducted by a Catholic newspaper, virtually four out of five of us have no interest in the pope's visit whatsoever. And when you narrow that down just to those with no religious affiliation, it's nine out of 10 "don't cares." What is getting our juices going, though, is the cost of the visit to the taxpayer, which could be as much as 14 million euros - and that's excluding the extra policing required. Over three out of four people think that's not on, particularly when we're all having to pull our belts in right now to pay off the country's debts. A sort of "why should we have to pay for a papal banquet when some of us are struggling to pay our rent" feeling.
One spokesman for a Catholic organization, however, put forward the optimistic view that in Glasgow and Edinburgh alone the visit will generate around 15 million euros through extra visitors and publicity. One hefty item of expenditure, I presume, will be the security arrangements, to ensure that no one takes a pop at the pope or indeed any of the other high powered figures attending. One of those expected guests, by the way, is former Prime Minister Tony Blair, well known for his devoutness and therefore, I'm sure, thrilled to know he's going to be in the holy presence.
So the security services were probably not pleased to hear that secret plans for the arrangements were recently left in a pub in Leamington Spa by "two smartly-dressed men who shared lunch and a bottle of wine." Among other things, the document included details of where the Popemobile will be parked, where His Holiness will be putting on his robes and where those VIPs will be sitting, when the pope conducts an open-air mass in Birmingham.
Some members of the music world, however, are positively looking forward to the visit. British electro-pop group Ooberfuse have recorded a rap song "Heart's Cry," which they hope will get the clubbers bopping. It features the pope himself voicing suitable God affirming phrases in English but with "characteristic German accentuation," they say, and is expected to be played at the Hyde Park prayer vigil. Britain's Got Talent finalist, Liam McNally, will also be there singing the Lord's Prayer while Susan Boyle will be performing at the open-air mass in Glasgow.
The manufacturers of souvenirs are looking forward to what they hope will be a healthy profit. On sale are the usual mugs, fridge magnets, keyrings and other tat, along with T-shirts at 15 to 25 euros a time, including one with a retro-style picture of 19th century Cardinal John Henry Newman, whose beatification on the road to sainthood is one of the purposes of the visit. There's also a little black number with an image of His Holiness in triplicate, which has been described as being "like the video for Bohemian Rhapsody and just perfect for a Goth on a trip to Lourdes." And I noticed some reasonably priced rosaries and such, coming in at five to 10 euros, if you're into that sort of thing. The sellers of these goodies, though, are presumably not Catholics, as that would be committing simony - a sin, which as a non-Catholic, I was unaware of until this week. It means the making of a profit out of sacred things and images.
Then there are the instructions issued by the Church to pilgrims who will be gathering to see the pope. There's a long list of forbidden items including animals - so there's no chance of getting a blessing for the family dog - and vuvuzelas, those horns we all heard at the World Cup in South Africa. Also banned are alcohol, gazebos, canopies and barbecues - so no camping out and partying while waiting for God or rather God's representative. Though I think lugging a gazebo through the optimistically expected crowds would be a bit of a challenge for the most dedicated papal groupie. Oh, and hampers and cool bags are subject to a strict size limit - a bit like airline cabin baggage. Flags, cushions, small folding chairs, banners and torches are, however, okay, and the organizers, aware of the vagaries of our weather, also helpfully advise bringing both wet weather gear and provision for sunny conditions, such as sun block and cover up clothes, along with "medication as needed for the duration of your time away from home." Remember, God helps those who help themselves.