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

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Welcome to our weekly update on Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK in September. In this edition, we head to the Diocese of Westminster for a local update from Fr Roger Taylor – the Diocesan Papal Visit Co-ordinator. Fr Roger is also the Vice-Rector at Allen Hall, the diocese’s seminary for priests-in-training.

Fr Roger discusses the open-air public celebrations at Cofton Park and Hyde Park and we also find out how preparations are going in a diocese that will play host to a number of events – both private and public.

You can listen to the audio by clicking on the MP3 player on this web page:

Tell us a little bit about the preparations…

Fr Roger Taylor: Basically we have to get the names of everybody who wants to come and as you can imagine that’s a pretty amazing task. There are 80,000 expected at Hyde Park, and 65,000 due at Cofton Park in Birmingham. It’s a big job gathering all the names and distributing all the places – it’s been absorbing, let’s put it that way!

There are many events, both public and private, going on in the Diocese of Westminster with the ethnic chaplaincies strongly involved as well…

Fr RT: Yes, we’ve got a great number of ethnic chaplaincies in this diocese. It’s part of the richness of the Church in Westminster – we have about 50: Lithuania, Ukraine, Congo, Vietnam, you name it. It’s very important that each of those chaplaincies is represented on the day. It’s been great, actually, meeting some of these people for the first time, it’s been a wonderful experience.

Well you’ve got non-public events, but I expect most of your time is taken up with the events in Cofton Park and Hyde Park isn’t it?

Fr RT: Yes, we’re really dealing with the major public participation events, the great Prayer Vigil in Hyde Park which is going to be a wonderful occasion for all of London, and the beatification in Cofton Park of Cardinal Newman. So those are the two events we’re focusing on.

Give us some notion of the building enthusiasm – are you getting that sense that everyone’s getting rather excited?

Fr RT: Yes, I think for a time it seemed a very long way away but suddenly it’s almost upon us and I think people are beginning to realise that this is really a once in a generation, perhaps once in a lifetime, event. I think back to when John Paul II came, that was before I was Catholic even, and this is something which is going to be very special for the people of this country. It’ll be very special for the faith of the people of this country, so there’s a tremendous wave of enthusiasm building now. We’ve done the first allocation of tickets and already I’ve got about 2,000 people on the waiting list!

And I presume not just Catholics?

Fr RT: No, I think one of the important features of the event is to try to reach out as far as possible to Christians of other traditions and to people of other faiths as well. We’ve certainly been encouraging the parishes who are distributing the tickets to reach out within their parish boundaries to see if there are people who are not part of the Catholic family for whom this would be an interesting and meaningful event. I hope there’ll be a very good representation from other traditions: Christian traditions and non-Christian traditions as well.

There will be some people who won’t be able to go to the big public celebrations but there will be Popemobile routes through London – through the diocese in fact – so it’s not solely those events is it?

Fr RT: No, I do hope that a lot of people will be able to see him en route as it were. 80,000 sounds like a lot of people but there’ll be many, many more who can’t get a ticket for the events. So I do hope there’ll be a real opportunity for people to express their enthusiasm for Pope Benedict and their love and respect for him. And of course there’ll be wide media coverage too through television, so there’ll be a lot of people who perhaps can’t get there for all sorts of reasons but I hope they’ll be able to participate in whatever way they can.

And looking at those frequently asked, or emailed, questions I presume you frequently get the questions like: ‘Can I turn up as an individual?’ or ‘Can I just turn up on the day?’

Fr RT: Yes, and sadly, it just won’t be possible. Apart from anything else I think the events will be full and obviously if we’re allowed to have 80,000 people in the Park that’s all we can have. So there’ll be difficulties with health and safety if everybody wants to get in. So you will have to have a place in advance and those you can get through your parish, or through your ethnic chaplaincy, so that’s the route by which they are being distributed.

JA: I think it’s probably a good time to reiterate that we will be streaming all of this on thepapalvisit.org.uk, all the events, so if you can’t physically be there we’ll certainly be bringing that online.

Let’s finish with a quick word on Cardinal Newman. One of the principle reasons for the Holy Father coming over is to beatify Cardinal Newman, to make him a ‘Blessed’. That’s the last day in Cofton Park as we’ve mentioned.

We’re in the delightful surroundings of Allen Hall, the diocese’s seminary, is Cardinal Newman a man, academically or otherwise, who inspires you?

Fr RT: I think he’s a real model for a lot of priests. He’s often thought of, perhaps, as being just an intellectual or just an academic but one shouldn’t forget the many thousands of ordinary people of Birmingham who lined the route for his funeral.

As well as being a man of extraordinary intellect, extraordinary faith and an extraordinary writer of course, he was, at heart, a pastoral man who loved his people and his people loved him. And I think right at the heart of the charism for a diocesan parish priest is this pastoral heart, the love for your people. You have to want to be a pastor, you have to want to be a shepherd to your people. And I think it’s very clear that that’s something Cardinal Newman can be, a model for all of us priests.

That’s how I’d view the Holy Father himself, Pope Benedict, who very much has a deserved reputation for being academically very skilled but comes across as very personable, wanting to be connected with the people. Is there a similarity between [Newman and Pope Benedict] do you think?

Fr RT: I think there are some similarities but I think there needs to be, in a sense, for all priests. We need to have a sound intellectual understanding of our faith. We need to understand that our faith is grounded in reason and so of course this whole dialogue between faith and reason – something the Holy Father has been very much involved in and a debate he very much wants to push forward – I think offers an important model for priests. We need to understand our faith, we need to be able to answer the difficult questions. We need to have that balance between being people who understand our faith, have a sound intellectual and academic basis on which our faith is grounded, but right at the heart of it is this idea of having a pastoral heart, of really loving your people.