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Catholics urged to apply as soon as possible for papal visit places

Pope Benedict XVI leads the Angelus prayer at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo on Sunday (Photo: PA)

Catholics are being urged to apply as soon as possible in their parishes if they are to stand any chance of attending the big outdoor papal events in September.

Details of the ticket allocations for the Mass in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, the prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, and the beatification of Cardinal Newman in Cofton Park, Birmingham, were sent to parish priests last week.

Although they may have already contributed to the visit’s costs through the national collection, the faithful will be charged £25 to attend the Mass in Cofton Park and £10 for the Hyde Park vigil. The 1,000 priests concelebrating in Birmingham will also have to pay, though the 2,000 VIPs attending the events will not.

A spokesman for the Church said: “The idea is that the people who are going are not visitors but pilgrims and they are representing the faithful. So they will have a pilgrim pass, and this will include a journey CD, all the health and safety stuff, a travelcard, the Magnificat [prayer book] and the commemorative branded pack. The whole idea is that they contribute to the cost of travel.”

The blanket price will also help to pay for people who have to travel far to the event, so that someone from London will pay no more for the Hyde Park event than someone from Cornwall. But there will be a regional bias so that northern dioceses receive more Bellahouston places, with those in the Midlands getting the bulk of the beatification tickets and southern dioceses receiving most for Hyde Park.

The spokesman confirmed that priests will be paying to attend the beatification Mass. “If a priest is going to go along to the beatification and will be concelebrating, he will be leading the pilgrimage, leading his parish as a group,” he said.

Distribution will vary by diocese, with the Diocese of Westminster calling for each parish to nominate one person as a local coordinator “to whom and from whom all necessary information will flow”. For security reasons each group will need to nominate a “pilgrim leader” who will lead each parish into Birmingham and Hyde Park as a group. Concelebrating priests cannot be pilgrim leaders for Birmingham because of separate access arrangements. The Diocese of Westminster set a deadline of July 14 for details of parish leaders to be sent in.

The number of places allocated to each deanery will correspond to the number of Mass-goers listed in the latest diocesan yearbook, and each dean will be responsible for distributing tickets fairly between parishes.

Parishioners are also welcome to bring guests, including members of other faiths, “subject to appropriate proof of identity”. The same pattern is expected across other dioceses.

Fr Tim Finigan, whose Blackfen parish in Southwark diocese is receiving 20 tickets for the beatification and 57 for Hyde Park, said he had expected that “priests who wish to attend would have to arrange payment of their own travel costs” and that “these would be a legitimate parish expense since they relate to an activity which is wholly and exclusively part of the priestly ministry”.

Meanwhile, West Midlands Police has insisted that it will be able to cover the costs of the Pope’s presence in Birmingham, using money from its budget as well as Government funds. Chief Superintendent James Andronov said that while there was still work to be done “that certainly isn’t deterring us from planning what we hope will be – well, fully anticipate will be – a very successful and safe event”.

The rising costs of the visit are a source of continuing anxiety, with the total bill for policing, accommodation and travel for taxpayers now estimated to be around £20million. The debt-ridden Government is expected to pay for policing, which includes guaranteeing the Pope’s safety during the 14 engagements, while non-policing costs, such as accommodation and travel for the papal delegation, will be split between Church and state.

National newspapers have quoted anonymous Government officials saying that costs have spiralled out of control, while the Church has been forced to rethink key elements of the visit due to costs, although it has now raised £6million of the projected £7million cost.

Meanwhile, Bishop Vincent Logan of Dunkeld in Scotland has predicted that the legacy of the Pope’s visit will “more than justify the costs”.

He said: “It is now 28 years since Pope John Paul II visited Scotland but we all still have vivid memories of those days he spent with us and we all still talk about the great occasion that it was.”

Last month senior Conservative peer Lord Patten was put in charge of co-ordinating the Government’s involvement as a sign that David Cameron took the visit seriously. Lord Patten told the Spectator that “like a lot of other Catholics… I don’t agree with everything that the Vatican says”, but said he admired the Pope intellectually.

The Pontiff is due to meet the Queen and Prince Philip at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, although he will not meet Prince Charles, leading one Sunday newspaper to suggest that Benedict XVI had turned down a request to meet the Prince at a separate venue on the same day. A spokesman for the Prince denied that the Pope had snubbed him.

Not everyone is welcoming the papal visit, however. The Rev Professor Donald Macleod, recently retired principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh, accused his fellow countrymen of being “suckers for funny costumes” who “love to see old men dressed in ancient Roman togas”.

He also accused the Scottish government of “airbrushing” the Protestant Reformation out of history while celebrating the visit by the Pope, and dishonouring John Knox “the greatest of all our nation-builders”.

Prof Macleod said: “Why does secular, humanist Scotland so warmly entertain Catholicism, with all its authoritarianism, and yet register terror at the mere mention of the religion of Knox? Is it just that we’re suckers for funny costumes, and love to see old men dressed in ancient Roman togas?”