Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Papal Visit: people in Birmingham have souls too!

Well finally the Papal Visit has been announced. The Catholic Church is understandably overjoyed (as is the UK government), the British Humanist Association are equally understandably disappointed, and cyclists - it seems - are concerned about the affect of the visit on the finale of the Tour of Britain. There is a nice bright shiny website - which some Anglicans think is better than many of their own - and a prayer to help us prepare for the visit.

No doubt there are many matters which will get repeated airing in the media - such as the financing of the visit (this is a state visit, but the pastoral elements are expected to cost the Church in England and Wales about £6m) and the general anti-catholic menu of the ‘Protest the Pope’ brigade (which basically boils down to no free speech for those who disagree with them).

The itinerary on the official website for the visit gives thin details (in rather small print) of the major events of the visit, some of which are obviously not yet ready to be fully announced, such as “an event focussing on education”.

But here’s an interesting thing - if you are prepared to follow my reading between the lines.
The itinerary  for Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th September gives the arrival in Scotland and a public mass, a visit to the West Midlands and then a series of impressive state and ecumenical events in London, including visits to Westminster Hall, Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey. A simple reading of the itinerary suggests that the Pope will travel south from Scotland, and concluding his visit in the great city of London, stopping off in the Midlands on the way.
But look again. There is no public mass in London, in fact no mention of Mass at all, and it is surely inconceivable that the Holy Father will spend four days in England and not be seen at Mass on Sunday - isn’t it? And isn’t it also unlikely that the public Mass he will be celebrating in England - at Coventry Airport - for the beatification of John Henry Newman - will be on any day other than Sunday? And doesn’t it seem likely that the only public mass in England will be the climax of the visit?

It does - and it will be: the beatification mass - according to our understanding here in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, where planning has been underway for quite some time - will be on Sunday 19th September, at Coventry Airport, the venue used for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982.

So how come the visit to the Newman's own Archdiocese of Birmingham is tucked into the middle of the official itinerary?

Well, perhaps it wasn’t. The description of the events in the official press release has a rather different emphasis, and the statement from Buckingham Palace gets the order of events exactly right. And the text of the itinerary says “The Holy Father will also [my emphasis] visit the West Midlands”. A minor point perhaps - but doesn’t the ‘also’ suggest that this was intended to be at the end of the itinerary rather than in the middle?
I wonder if someone in the Archdiocese of Westminster thought it unseemly that the Birmingham Archdiocese be seen to be the climax of the Visit?

However, in Newman's own words - People in Birmingham have souls too.

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