Quotas, Identity Documents, Lack of Accommodations Will Restrict Access To Pope During Visit to Britain

This weekend the Catholic journalist has not been in London, but in Yorkshire, speaking at a gathering of the Union of Catholic Mothers in the Diocese of Middlesborough, and to Catholic young people at the Hull Faith Forum. I stayed at Scarborough on the coast – a glorious spot, with families enjoying the sands and the sea, children running in and out of the water, seagulls swooping, proper fish-and-chips on sale, and an absence of the fighting, vomiting and drunkenness that marks so many of Britain’s towns and cities. There was also a ruined castle up on the hill, a fine large Catholic church with holidaying families joining the locals for Mass, good singing, and a beautiful chant of “Ubi caritas…”at Communion.

On a golden summer Sunday, in such surroundings, it’s easy to feel that all’s well in Britain, and in the Catholic Church here. But the realities of life are still present. There are tensions and worries over the Holy Father’s September visit (restrictions on numbers at all events…we are worried that the mass media will thus report that “there has been little enthusiasm among Catholics in Britain for the Pope….”). There is real concern that the next outbreak of orchestrated attacks on the Holy Father and the Church will reach a peak in August – the Internet makes it all so easy to do, with slander, headlines, and innuendo flying around the world in minutes.

Parishes have been told of the exact numbers of people they are allowed to send to one of the (few) Papal events: everyone who attends has to have a photo-identity document, and as, obviously, many youngsters don’t have passports or driving licences, this is causing headaches. Groups from Yorkshire will have to find places to stay in London. As the event in Hyde Park will finish late at night, this means that some accommodation will be needed in the city centre rather than the suburbs. All of this can be sorted out, but time is short. Older Catholics look back wistfully to the 1980s and the visit of Pope John Paul II, when there was an 18-month period of planning and organising beforehand: this time, it’s been less than six months.

But there are deep wells of loyalty and goodwill among Catholics in Britain. In Yorkshire, there is great devotion to Fr Nicholas Postgate, the heroic martyr-priest of the days of persecution. He was able to carry out his ministry for many years despite Catholicism being outlawed, because he was so much loved even among non-Catholics, and because all Catholics were so fiercely loyal and protective. Meeting some young Yorkshiremen training for the priesthood this weekend, I found enthusiasm, courage, good humour and faith. One of them had written the prayer which is on a prayer-card produced by the diocese:

“Blessed Nicholas Postgate, you traversed not only the moors and dales of Yorkshire, but the highs and lows of spiritual life in response to God’s will. Intercede for our seminarians as they make their journey through life, that they too may follow God’s will for them and bear faithful witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ…”