The Pope won’t be flying with British Airways

Usually the Pope returns to Rome on the national carrier of the country he's visiting (PA photo)

The Holy See press office today formally announced the programme of Benedict XVI’s state visit to Britain in September.

The Vatican has probably chosen to release details now because the Curia starts to wind up business for the summer around this time of year. The Pope is also leaving for his three week summer holiday in Castel Gandolfo on Wednesday, and won’t be back in the Apostolic Palace until after the visit in October.

The official announcement also comes after an unexpected private audience on Friday between the Pope and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.

Unlike most formal announcements of papal visits, definitive times remain vague, most probably, according to one official, because of security concerns. Any organisational problems are being played down, although there is concern in some quarters that critics of the visit will latch on to the increasing costs of having the Holy Father in Britain as a guest of the Queen.

Usually, the Pope flies back to Rome on the national carrier of the country he’s visiting but on this trip he won’t be flying with British Airways, nor easyJet (who, tongue in cheek, had offered one of their planes in order to cut costs). Instead, the Holy Father will be flying on a chartered Alitalia Airbus and a helicopter, perhaps because of cost concerns or strikes.

Some at this morning’s press conference in London noted the large amount of international interest, doubtless stirred up by the clerical sex abuse scandals of recent weeks. Certain to attract plenty of attention, it will be one of the most challenging apostolic voyages of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.