The importance of Great Britain's relationship with the Holy See could surprise critics during the papal visit there this fall. In spite of the complications in planning the joint state and pastoral visit, the U.K.'s special representative for the occasion is predicting it will be a "terrific success."
Speaking to Vatican Radio in an extensive interview, Lord Christopher Patten countered some of the criticism being batted around by the British media in the lead up to the Pope's visit to the U.K. in September.
Lord Patten told Vatican Radio, “I think at the outset, and this is no criticism, people had perhaps underestimated the complexity involved in fitting together the state visit aspect and the pastoral aspects as if they were a seamless whole.
"It's incomparably more difficult arranging the state visit of the Holy Father than arranging the state visit of even, I suspect, President Obama," he said, explaining that preparations for a visit from the president would not include hosting a hundred thousand people at an outdoor venue.
The most recent estimates put the number of attendees at the Sept. 19 beatification ceremony for Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham at 70,000. An evening prayer ceremony in London's Hyde Park and a Mass in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park, are each expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
"The difficulties in getting all this together," Lord Patten added, "I think were a little underestimated, but now I think we’re on top of things."
He said that, between the pastoral and state aspects, the visit will provide a platform for the government to show just how much it has to talk about with the Catholic Church. He referred specifically to "the Millennium Development Goals, environmental protection, global equity and disarmament issues. On the domestic agenda, the two will be able to discuss ways to strengthen the relationship between faith groups.
"When we ‘parade’ the importance of this relationship," he concluded, "we will perhaps even surprise some people who have been critical of this visit in the first place.”
First among critics' concerns is the cost to taxpayers of organizing the trip and providing security. Lord Patten put the total public expense of the four-day trip somewhere between 15 and 19 million dollars, which, he said, should be considered in the context that around 30 million dollars was spent for the one-day G20 summit last year.
As for the economic activity generated by the Holy Father's short stay in the U.K., the Scotland Evening Times reported this week that city officials in Glasgow alone expect to benefit to the tune of over 14 million dollars. Half, they estimated, would come in cash and the remainder is possible gain from the worldwide exposure offered by international media covering the event.
Lord Patten told Vatican Radio that he's "absolutely confident" that all the arrangements put in place will serve to make the papal visit "a terrific success."