Vatican details pope's September visit to Britain

18th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Vatican on Wednesday unveiled the official programme of Pope Benedict XVI's planned September visit to Britain and sought to clear up the controversy the trip has sparked in some quarters.

"I have read and heard the totally unfounded objections," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi regarding the disclosure that worshippers would be asked to pay a "pilgrim contribution" of up to 25 pounds (30 euros, 40 dollars) to attend papal events.

"All this is completely false... the pope goes to a country because he is invited by the highest authorities of the state (the Queen and the government) and by the local Church," Lombardi said on Radio Vatican.

"Consequently, the costs and logistical constraints are naturally at the expense of the one inviting him," he said. "It is not the pope who organises a trip to England all by himself."

The 83-year-old pontiff will begin on September 16 in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, where Queen Elizabeth II, titular head of the world's Anglicans, will greet him at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Vatican said in a statement of a trip that will also take him to London and Birmingham.

Benedict XVI will be only the second pope to visit Britain since King Henry VIII split with Rome in 1534, leading to the formation of the Anglican Church. His predecessor John Paul II drew huge crowds in 1982.

The visit's high point will be the beatification of 19th-century theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Catholicism, on the last day of the four-day tour.

The visit has sparked controversy in Britain since it was announced in March amid a raft of child abuse scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church since last year, with an expected pricetag of up to 12 million pounds (14 million euros, 18 million dollars).

Firebrand former Northern Ireland leader and Protestant minister Ian Paisley called the invitation "a mistake" and slammed the Catholic Church for its response to child abuse.

Two prominent atheist activists have called for the pope to be arrested for "crimes against humanity".

From Edinburgh, the head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics will head to Glasgow, where he will celebrate mass in Bellahouston Park and Susan Boyle, who won international fame for her signing on the reality television show "Britain's Got Talent", will perform.

On September 17 the pope will be in London, meeting with Catholic educators at St Mary's University College in Twickenham, then with leaders of other faiths at Lambeth Palace, residence of the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Strains have arisen between the two churches over moves by the Vatican to make it easier for Anglicans disgruntled with issues such as the ordination of women to convert to Catholicism.

The German pope will also meet representatives of civil society, academics, cultural figures and business leaders, as well as diplomats and religious heads, at Westminster Hall.

The day will end with an ecumenical observance at Westminster Abbey.

On September 18 the pontiff will make a round of political meetings, with Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the opposition Labour Party leader -- currently left-leaning feminist Harriet Harman pending a leadership election.

The pope will then celebrate mass at Westminster Cathedral before taking part in a prayer vigil for Newman's beatification in Hyde Park, an event expected to draw some 70,000 pilgrims.

Newman's beatification mass on September 19 will take place in Birmingham's Cofton Park.

© 2010 AFP

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