The rare sighting will actually be the first state visit by a pope to the UK but has brought criticism from protesters and the “Protest the Pope” group who feel that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding the visit and that he doesn’t deserve the “honour” of a state visit.
The Catholic church has been mired in bad press lately particularly concerning the Vatican’s record on child abuse and human rights. Ironically, protests against the tour will only add to the estimated £20 million bill that the country will face for the visit.
Tens of thousands are expected to greet Pope Benedict at public masses around the country during the packed four day tour. Catholic leaders and government officials are heralding the trip which is the first chance to see the leader of the Catholic Church on UK soil for 28 years – it will certainly a rare treat for all the head of the Catholic Church and the worlds media to be focussed so close to home.
The visit itinerary will include a visit to St Mary’s College, Twickenham for three separate events – praying with representatives of religious congregations, meeting 3,500 students in a “Big Assembly” (to celebrate Catholic education) and finally to meet with religious leaders and people of religious faith in the Waldegrave Drawing Room – to discuss religion and belief in society today.
St Mary’s was selected for the visit by the Vatican due to the necessary facilities, location and general outstanding contribution that the college has made to Catholic education during its 160 year history (it is believed to be the oldest Catholic College in the land).
Attendance at the events themselves is strictly by invitation only and the campus will be closed except for those invited. Police are advising that there won’t be any opportunity to see the Pope when arriving or leaving the college (the Popemobile won’t be used for this journey) – the best opportunity view will be on Saturday 18th September along the official Popemobile route to the Prayer Vigil in Hyde Park.
Motorists are advised to that parking restrictions will be in place on Waldegrave Road and Shacklegate Lane (from midnight) during Friday and Waldegrave Road in particular may be closed for short periods of time without notice (between 6am-3pm).
During the London leg of the tour The Pope will be staying at the Apostolic nunciature (already under armed guard) in Wimbledon Village as did Pope John Paul during his visit. The nunciature is home to Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz who is the Pope’s ambassador to Britain.
Just down the road from St Mary’s College is the formerly named ‘Popes Grotto’ – this is actually named after famous 18th century poet Alexander Pope and has no connection with any actual Popes!