Lord Patten of Barnes, the Prime Minister’s personal representative for the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI, visited Birmingham last week to view preparations for the papal Mass and the beatification of Cardinal Newman at Cofton Park.
Lord Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, was accompanied by Councillor Alan Rudge, and senior officials from the City of Birmingham, West Midlands Police and other agencies.
Mr Rudge, tasked with overseeing the City Council’s role during the papal visit, said: “The visit is a momentous occasion for the City of Birmingham and for the West Midlands. We have a world-class reputation for hosting events and will be delighted to welcome our friends from across the region, the country and the world.”
Lord Patten toured the leafy environs of Cofton Park in glorious sunshine before travelling across the City to the Oratory House in Edgbaston, opened by Cardinal Newman in 1852 and where he died on August 11 1890, aged 89.
At the Birmingham Oratory Lord Patten met with the provost, Fr Richard Duffield, and Canon Patrick Browne, administrator of St Chad’s Cathedral and the archdiocesan co-ordinator for the papal visit.
Lord Patten, a Catholic, was shown Cardinal Newman’s room and his private chapel, which is dedicated to St Francis de Sales, patron of writers and journalists. He also visited St Philip’s chapel, which is now being made into a shrine to Newman, founder of the English Oratory of St Philip Neri.
Pope Benedict is expected to make a private pilgrimage to the Oratory House after the Mass at Cofton Park. The Pope will then be driven to St Mary’s College, Oscott, the diocesan seminary, for a private visit during which he will address the bishops of England, Wales and Scotland in the College Chapel. It was here that John Henry Newman was confirmed as a Catholic by Bishop (later Cardinal) Nicholas Wiseman in 1845.
Afterwards Lord Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford University, visited Birmingham Council House where he gave a series of interviews to local media – including television, radio and newspapers.
During his interviews Lord Patten revealed that two popemobiles would be used by Pontiff during the four-day visit. Lord Patten said that he hoped it would be possible for the Pope to use a popemobile for part of his journey from Cofton Park to the Oratory House, Edgbaston.
Meanwhile, the following extract was included in the weekly news sheet of the Birmingham Oratory issued yesterday: “When our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, comes to the Oratory on September 19, straight after the beatification, he will be the first pilgrim to pray in the new shrine that will be in St Philip’s Chapel.
“This is a tremendous honour, not only for Cardinal Newman, but also for our parish and community. For obvious reasons the visit will be very short and it will be completely private.”
The bulletin added: “Many thanks to those who have already made donations towards setting up Blessed John Henry Newman’s shrine and to fund the redecoration of St Philip’s Chapel, making it ready to receive the relics of Blessed John Henry, but a great deal more is needed.”
During his interviews in Birmingham Lord Patten of Barnes emphasised that the decision to switch the venue of the papal Mass and beatification from Coventry Airport to Cofton Park was solely the decision of the Vatican.