A certain amount of irritation and resentment is brewing among Catholics in Britain, because we have been told that only very limited places are available at events with the Holy Father when he visits Britain in September. The Catholic Herald newspaper even headlined this news with a message that the Bishops’ planning group organising the events had stated that Catholics should “stay at home and watch the Pope on TV.”
The reaction of many Catholics has been one of indignation. “We want to support our Pope; we love him and we want to show him our loyalty,” said one member of a London parish. Another put it more bluntly: “Why are they trying to stop us turning out in good numbers? What’s going on?”
There is a general feeling that a visit from the Holy Father is not something to be watched privately at home on television, but a great event that large numbers of Catholics will want to share together.
It had been assumed that there would be opportunities to cheer him on his arrival in the streets of London in the famous Popemobile, and also that he would be able to address one or two large gatherings which people could attend in coachloads from their local parishes.
The official reason given for the restrictions is that health and safety regulations prevent large unwieldy gatherings – the Papal events will therefore have to be ticket-only, and the management of this inevitably means smaller numbers. But this seems a poor argument. British people have been gathering in large numbers for great events for centuries without deaths or injuries.
Police protection can ensure the safety of the Holy Father: with international terrorism and violent crime a fact of modern life, the authorities are well-skilled in handling major events and international figures, and the British have become experts in this area having had to cope with various threats in recent decades.
The Holy Father is due to meet Queen Elizabeth II at Holyrood, the Royal Palace in Edinburgh. He will celebrate Mass at a major outdoor venue in Scotland, and travel to England for events in London and the Midlands. There are plans for him to give a major address at Westminster – probably in the Great Hall, where St Thomas More was tried and where leading international statesmen have spoken over the years – and to celebrate Mass at Westminster Cathedral.
The beatification of John Henry Newman will take place at Coventry airport – a rather bleak venue, chosen because it can accommodate a large crowd. But will a large crowd now be allowed?