The papal visit will be a “great Commonwealth event”, watched closely by Catholics in Canada and Australia, Lord Patten has said.
At a press conference yesterday, Lord Patten, who is in charge of the Government’s part of the visit, said: “It’s worth remembering that this is not only a great British event but a great European Commonwealth event – 40 per cent of Canadians are Catholic, 25 per cent of Australians – and a great global event. When the Pope went to Sydney for World Youth Day I think more people went to Sydney for that than went to Sydney for the Olympics. We would expect a huge amount of global attention for his visit here.”
Lord Patten, a former Cabinet minister and the last Governor of Hong Kong, also set out to explain why the British Government had invited the Pope.
He said: “First of all, we are welcoming the head of a Church which represents about 10 per cent of citizens of this country, and represents over a billion people around the world. Second, we’re welcoming somebody with whose Church we work closely around the world in pursuit of the Government’s aims of promoting social equity and sustainable development.
“We don’t share every policy position but we work extremely closely with the Church in Africa, in Asia, in the United Nations, for example, in about three weeks time in promoting the same goals in New York when the Millennium Development Goals are discussed, and I hope when the issue of climate change is debated once again later this year.”
He also praised the “important contribution” the Church made to the social development of Britain.
“For all those reasons the Pope’s visit is hugely welcome. But it’s also welcome I think because of its assertion of the important role that religion, that Christianity, has played in the shaping of our own society. I think people will be listening to what His Holiness has to say about the relationship between religion and some of the other presently dominant influences in our society and in Europe as a whole,” he said.
At the press conference, organised for foreign media, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster praised the Government for its “extraordinary” work in planning the events.
He said the visit had profound “historic and cultural implications”, and the image of Queen Elizabeth meeting Pope Benedict “would resonate through the story of this land”.
The Archbishop said: “When the Pope enters Westminster Hall on the Friday evening to address politicians, diplomats, leaders of this society, that will be another very historic and resonant moment. The Pope will pause at the spot at which St Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, was condemned to death in 1535 for his Catholic faith. He will be on that spot.
“He will also, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, go to pray at the tomb of St Edward the confessor, the canonised King of England, the founder of Westminster Abbey.”