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Pope Benedict XVI to bring ‘mini-Vatican’ to Britain

By on Sunday, 12 September 2010

When he visits Britain next week Pope Benedict XVI will be shadowed by aides who ensure smooth sailing for the 83-year-old Pontiff whenever he travels abroad.

This “mini-Vatican” is small enough to fit on his chartered jet, but diverse enough to respond to challenges in strategic areas – including diplomatic crises, security breaches, liturgical slips, reporters’ questions and even medical emergencies.

Many of the key players on the Vatican’s travelling team are veterans with on-the-road experience going back decades. But the plane to Britain will also carry at least one newcomer making his first papal trip.

Probably the most visible figure on the papal plane is the one standing next to him when the Pope answers reporters’ questions: Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Fr Lombardi, a 68-year-old Jesuit, has had his share of public relations ordeals during papal trips, beginning with the Pope’s speech on Islam in Regensburg, Germany, in 2006.

The Pope’s off-the-cuff comments on his plane have also ignited public debate, on topics ranging from Marian apparitions to condoms. Although the questions on these flying news conferences are now pre-selected from reporters’ submissions, Fr Lombardi apparently tries not to vet them too closely.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, is never far from the Pope’s side throughout foreign trips, and takes part in many of the private meetings with political and state leaders. Cardinal Bertone doesn’t speak much English, and assisting him on this visit will be 49-year-old Mgr Leo Cushley, a Scot who is in charge of the secretariat’s English-language desk.

In addition, because this is a state visit, the Pope is bringing along Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, who routinely deals with the details of foreign relations.

Mgr Georg Gänswein, Pope Benedict’s personal secretary, is well-known to television viewers around the world as the sandy-haired prelate who ushers the Pope to his seat, hands him his texts and generally keeps an eagle eye out for the Pontiff when he’s on the public stage.

On papal altars, it’s Mgr Guido Marini, the master of liturgical ceremonies, who seems ubiquitous. Mgr Marini, a tall, slender figure with a pious demeanor, has spent months preparing the British liturgies, personally visiting Scotland and England for on-site inspections of the Mass venues.

Another familiar figure on the papal-trip landscape is Alberto Gasbarri, the Vatican Radio official who organses the Pope’s foreign visits. Mr Gasbarri, who has been doing this since the early days of Pope John Paul II, is the elegantly dressed layman who typically precedes the Pope by about 10 steps – all the better to make sure there are no logistical surprises around the corner.

Domenico Giani, the head of Vatican security, has got to be the most pressured man on papal trips. Security is provided by the host country, but Mr Giani’s role is to coordinate the interface between the British team and the handful of Vatican agents who travel with the pope. Wearing suits and ties, Mr Giani and his men flank Pope Benedict whenever he moves, then fade into the background.

One member of the papal entourage who is rarely seen is Dr Patrizio Polisca, the Pope’s personal physician. He’s essentially on call 24/7 for the duration of the trip. Dr Polisca, however, has another particular interest in this visit: as president of the group of physicians who advise the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, he had a role in approving the miracle needed for the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman – the key event of the trip.

Archbishop Kurt Koch, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will be traveling for the first time on a papal trip. Although there are obvious ecumenical aspects to the visit, don’t look for Archbishop Koch to take centre stage: Vatican sources view the trip as a chance to shine a spotlight on the need for common Christian witness, not as a working session on ecumenical problems.

An assortment of about 20 other officials completes the Vatican roster on the papal plane. The papal aides sit in front, and the 70 or so reporters accredited for the flight sit in coach class – a hierarchy that hasn’t changed in more than 40 years of papal travel.

  • Kennyinliverpool

    I think the trip is going to be a complete disaster…. not sure why … but I am already cringing

  • http://spreadthyfragrance.blogspot.com Jackie Parkes

    I think the trip will be a complete success!

  • Ejgecy_lastorta

    He is not walking alone. It is the Lord who puts him there and it's the Lord who will always walks with him.
    That's for sure.

  • Ejgecy_lastorta

    He is not walking alone. It is the Lord who puts him there and it's the Lord who will always walks with him.
    That's for sure.

  • GFFM

    All of this fretting about Benedict's historic visit by Catholic bishops and pundits has been distracting and completely unfruitful. Pride and enthusiasm has been replaced by worry and hand wringing. Moreover, for those of us who have followed the preparations for his visit, it has been dismaying to see the vitriol and hatred from many within the British press and the marked lack of tolerance on the part of many cultural elite within British society. What has been underscored here is that Britain needs the visit pastorally and spiritually. Thus whether the visit is “successful” according to the pundits eyes is immaterial, if Benedict's visit brings spiritual insight and succor to even a small part of the British Church. Benedict is clearly unafraid and neither should British Catholics of any stripe be afraid.

  • dwpz

    To some extent I can understand comments such as 'I think the trip is going to be a complete disaster'. However, I don’t agree! We seem to live in a time when we (eventually) believe everything the media throws at us – and they have done everything to talk down this event – accepting there are many issues to be resolved in the Church today, and I make no excuses for those issues or the way the Church has dealt with them! You need to keep a perspective on this – the various protest groups are not the majority, but they do appear to get the majority of publicity from a very secular press, which appears to push its own agenda ahead of balance. A very good example was ‘Sunday Morning Live’ this morning, where the person representing the Church's view point was harangued to the point that he could not get his view across by the two other ‘opponents’. The lack of control by the presenter simply looked like she was happy let a one sided ‘debate’ take place. The rather ironic conclusion was a survey on the question ‘is the Church obsessed with sex’. Maybe the survey should have asked if the media is obsessed with sex.

    The trip will be a success, both for the country and for those individuals who are able to attend the several events. Take less interest in what the media are telling you believe and believe in yourself and your faith. These are difficult time – but difficult times pass.

  • Sr. Joan Agnes Mc Fadden

    I'm delighted that Pope Benedict XVI is going to Scotland and England. It's a challenging call to follow in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II – but this Pope is also very “intellectually gifted” and equally Holy!

    Let's be honest. Practicing Christians must have courage to constantly challenge “Popular Media Morality” that's why I pray constantly – “O God, give spiritual health to all who are involved in the Media that they may work the good and upliftment of human race.”

  • Hugh McLoughlin

    You state: “Cardinal Bertone doesn’t speak much English, and assisting him on this visit will be 49-year-old Mgr Leo Cushley, a Scot who is in charge of the secretariat’s English-language desk.”

    This is misleading. As caposezione of the English Language Section of the First Section, the Section for General Affairs, of the Secretariat of State, Mgr Cushley will be travelling primarily as the Holy Father's English Language interpreter. He is only secondarily there to also translate for the Cardinal secretary of State. If there were to be some sort of clash of timetables someone else would be provided to interpret for Cardinal Bertone, most likely Msgr William V. Millea. Msgr Millea in fact has two jobs in the Vatican. Firstly, he is an Assistant Master of Pontifical Ceremonies (ceremonieri) within the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and is in fact the third longest serving of the twelve ceremonieri (since Feb 24, 1997). Secondly, he is a long-serving and senior official in the English Language Section of the Secretariat of State, where his boss is Msgr Leo.

  • Hugh McLoughlin

    What have you got to say now, after the event? The highly successful event.

  • alpinestars boots

    The Pope’s off-the-cuff comments on his plane have also ignited public
    debate, on topics ranging from Marian apparitions to condoms. Although
    the questions on these flying news conferences are now pre-selected from
    reporters’ submissions, Fr Lombardi apparently tries not to vet them
    too closely.