Lord Patten, the Government co-ordinator for the papal visit, has said that over the next four days the “eyes of the world” will be fixed on Britain.
At a press conference earlier this week he said that it was of especially huge interest to millions of Catholics in the US, Canada, Australia and the British Commonwealth.
“It will be a schedule-stopper right around the world as far as news editors are concerned, “ he said. “Perhaps for many the proudest moment will be the beatification ceremony, the only one this Pope has performed outside the Vatican, in Cofton Park, Birmingham, where Cardinal Newman used to take his country walks.”
Asked about the costs of the visit, Lord Patten said: “The fact that the Government has to reduce the largest deficit in our history doesn’t mean that the Government is no longer concerned about the world in which it finds itself living and its relationships with others. I would be very surprised if there were no visits by foreign leaders for the next four or five years.
“I am sure that the public will be pleased to know that the visit will cost half of the cost of one day of the G20 summit meeting last year … I would be happy to explain the figures to the (parliamentary) public accounts committee or anyone else.
“The Catholic Church and its faith organisations are these little battalions which Edmund Burke wrote about in the 19th century which provide the ‘big society’ which the Prime Minister is so concerned about. The modest expenditure of this visit should be considered as prudent expenditure by the wider community.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, also at the press conference on Tuesday, said: “My expectation would be that the Holy Father will pay tribute to the richness of the traditions of this country, in a sense embodied in Westminster Hall … but he will also want to explore the role of religious faith in modern democratic societies. While he recognises the importance of institutions being secular he expects secular institutions to have an open and positive attitude to religious faith.”
He said: “The Catholic tradition in this country is one of very profound loyalty to the person of the Holy Father. While many would want to suggest difficulties in trends of opinion I am quite sure that Catholics are looking forward to this visit very much indeed and the Catholic community in this country know what it is to show their affection and support for Pope Benedict.”
“The events that are clearly religious events are being paid for by the Church. Catholics are taxpayers as well and in that sense they are making a double contribution and they do so very willingly.”
He said: “In conjunction with the Holy See and the Government it was determined that the events would have some quality to them and not just an uncountable crowd. It is not possible this year for security measures. We decided that we would concentrate on the visual and spiritual experience of people who are there.”