Catholics must pay to attend 2 big events in England during pope’s visit in September

By Robert Barr, AP
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Catholics must pay to attend 2 pope events in UK

LONDON — Catholics will have to pay as much as 25 pounds ($39) to attend one of the two public events in England to be led by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit in September, church officials said Wednesday.

The charges — believed to be a first for a papal event — are for a prayer vigil in London’s Hyde Park on Sept. 18 and the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham on Sept. 19.

There is no set charge for transportation to the Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland on Sept. 16. In a letter on Monday to priests in the Paisley diocese, Bishop Philip Tartaglia urged parishes to hold fund-raising events to help pay the more than 1 million pound cost of the event.

Benedict is due to travel September for a four-day visit, where he is due to preside at the beatification of Newman — a prominent 19th century convert to Catholicism.

The trip has been controversial, with thousands of Britons signing a petition earlier this year against the pope’s arrival in the wake of outrage about sex crimes committed by Catholic priests.

Critics have also complained about the cost. Chris Patten, the official coordinating the event, had said the taxpayers’ tab for the upcoming papal visit to Britain could be as much as 12 million pounds, not counting extra policing costs.

The previous government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited the pope — a decision the austerity-minded new coalition government has not sought to change, despite some public unease.

In Rome, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday that the Vatican understands that the faithful will be asked to make a “contribution” toward the visit but are not being charged a fee as such. Lombardi said he understood that those who cannot pay will be not be required to do so.

Lombardi said people are not charged to see the pope at the Vatican, in Italy or anywhere in the world.

Church officials in England, who announced some details of the charges earlier this month, say those who wish to attend the events in London or Birmingham must join a parish group, and those groups will travel to the event by bus. Church officials say no one will be allowed to travel to the event on their own.

The church is charging 25 pounds for transportation to the Birmingham event, where 70,000 tickets are available. In Hyde Park, where up to 130,000 people may attend, the charge will be 10 pounds.

“Those attending the gatherings are not just ‘ticket’ holders, nor guests nor visitors; they are gathering as a representative body of the faithful from across the U.K. and thus are more akin to the ancient notion of pilgrims journeying to a spiritual experience in the same way that the Vatican entitles all papal visits as an ‘Apostolic Journey,’” the Catholic Communications Network said Wednesday in a statement responding to inquiries from The Associated Press.

“All pilgrims will be asked to make a contribution to the pilgrim journey to the Mass of beatification in Cofton Park. This will include return coach transport from the pilgrim point and a pilgrim pack with what is needed for the Mass. The contribution for this is 25 pounds.

“For Hyde Park Vigil the pilgrim pack will include a London central zone Travelcard as all pilgrims will need to use public transport to reach Hyde Park from wherever they choose to arrive in London. The contribution for this is 10 pounds.”

A London central zone Travelcard for off-peak travel sells for 5.60 pounds; a one-day pass valid at any time sells for 7.20 pounds.

Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, in a podcast on the papal visit website, said: “I think it’s important to stress again that one does have to be part of a group in order to attend one of the Masses or the prayer vigil.”

He added that there would be opportunities for people to see the pope as he travels around.

Associated Press Writer Victor Simpson contributed to this story.

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