106 days to go until Pope Benedict XVI visits England and Scotland

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The fourth weekly audio update from the desk of the Papal Visit Co-ordinator, Mgr Andrew Summersgill, looks at the parish collection for the Papal Visit held on Pentecost Sunday.

You can listen to the audio by visiting the official Papal Visit website and clicking on the MP3 player to the right of this article.

Father Andrew, what can you tell us about the Papal Visit parish collection and the fact that it has carried over from the Pentecost Mass?

Mgr Andrew Summersgill: That wasn’t the intention, and I’m sorry that, for some places in the country, the deliveries of materials for the collection really didn’t arrive when we expected them to arrive. What’s happened therefore is that information about the Papal Visit collection and the collection itself has been trickling out a little bit, rather than all coming together as we’d hoped. But I guess the upside of that is that the information has been there for three Sundays: the Sunday before Pentecost, Pentecost Sunday, and then last Sunday for those parishes where the material eventually arrived. So I’m sorry for the difficulties that that has no doubt caused to people. But I would also like to say that the indications are that people have been generous, and in difficult times, that’s really quite heartening. Certainly in the parish that I go to at the weekends everyone was responding warmly and well, both to the collection but also to the prayer cards and indeed for the opportunity to be able to pray for the Pope and to look forward to the Visit.

Now that shouldn’t be underestimated should it, as you say in hard times. But a question we get asked a lot is why does the Church need to raise £7 million, and where is it going?

Mgr AS: When there were discussions being undertaken between the Holy See and the Government about the Pope’s visit, clearly we became involved in those. And for the Holy See the Pope visiting the country is the Pope visiting the country at the invitation of the Head of State, but also quite specifically to try to engage with and to meet with representatives of the Catholic Church in that country. And quite properly therefore, that responsibility [in funding terms] falls to us as the Church. And the agreement that we reached with the Government before the invitation was formally issued was that, as the Church we would take responsibility for the infrastructure that would need to be put in place, in order to allow the Pope to meet with large and small numbers of Catholics.

And so when you begin to look at where the money will have to go, it will have to go in preparing places to accommodate the Pope, and for those people who are lucky enough to be able to be with him. So there are things like creating podiums, I suppose another word for that is staging, creating the areas where the Pope can celebrate Mass, where there can be choirs, where there can be all that is needed to make the Pope both heard and also visible.

So you need quite elaborate and quite extensive sound systems, you need video relays and video screens. And then on top of that you need all the lighting and the signing that needs to be put in place to enable large numbers of people to be able to move in relative safety and comfort. On top of that you need to put in the kind of comfort requirements, you need to put in all the first aid facilities. There then needs to be all the health and safety requirements that need to be met in terms of backup and emergency services and that kind of thing. And all the provision for that is the responsibility of the Church.

The Government is then putting in all that goes around that, in terms of the security, in terms of the policing, in terms of the personnel for the emergency services, in terms of all the transport arrangements that are necessary for some part of the Pope’s party, in some of the media infrastructure. It really does become quite complex and I have to say very expensive indeed. And also when the Pope will be visiting, if you like, places that are there already. So Cathedrals, churches, colleges, old people’s homes, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to prepare those places both to receive the Holy Father and those who are with him. But also to make them safe and secure for people who will be gathering anyway. So there are just so many different elements, that very soon the figures mount up. And I do understand how people quite rightly say ‘how is the money being spent’, and although I’m speaking in very general terms I’m hoping to be kind of as specific as I can be. It’s all that goes into making these larger and smaller gatherings possible.

And also of course we’ve talked about the fact that this isn’t exactly the same as 1982, it’s a different visit. Different numbers will be able to see the Holy Father. So will some of the fundraising go towards the ‘Virtual Visit’ – the streaming – which I know costs a lot of money?

Mgr AS: Yes, that is where the funding will go, precisely for what you are saying, in that we do recognise that we are in quite a different world and this visit is much shorter. It has elements to it which are not directly related to the Church. And therefore to be able to enable people to see as much of the Pope and to hear what he has got to say as possible, then that’s the way that we’re going to do it. And that’s quite a difficult idea for many of us to understand. On the other hand it does make the Pope’s presence so much more accessible to those who simply couldn’t be where he is anyway, because his timetable is fairly limited and he isn’t going to visit the different areas of the country.

Finally, Fr Andrew, I know you visited the Papal Nuncio last week who sadly has suffered a stroke, can you update us on his health?

Mgr AS: Yes, I very briefly saw the Nuncio. He was very tired and but I’m told that he’s recovering well. We spoke very briefly indeed, and I’m certain that he would welcome people to carry on praying for his recovery.