Security will be tight for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Great Britain in September after threats from radical secularists and Islamic extremists, but it will not be overwhelming, according to trip organizers.
Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, coordinator of the Sept. 16-19 visit for the bishops of England and Wales, told Newsmax the Pope wouldn’t be kept too much at a distance but would be safe.
“I would expect security arrangements to be extremely discreet but secure,” he said.
The U.K. has “specific practices,” different from many parts of the world, aimed at accommodating and managing large numbers of people, Summersgill said.
But British police are taking no chances and have said they are monitoring websites that appear to be targeting the Pope. The move follows reports in the U.K.’s Catholic Herald newspaper that Muslim extremists in Birmingham plan to disrupt an open-air papal Mass near the city on Sept. 19.
The website, called the Islamic Standard, urged Muslims to “tell the Pope just what they think of him after his insults against the Prophet Muhammad.”
The Birmingham event will be a chance not only to “challenge these evil words of this evil Pope,” the website says, but also to “call people away” from what the site noted as practices opposed to Islamic teachings.
British Member of Parliament Khalid Mahmood said he feared the website post might incite violence and even cause riots on the day. “These supposed Muslims are doing all they can to incite violence,” he said.
Radical secularists are also planning protests. Atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have suggested that they might attempt a civil arrest against the Pope on grounds that he covered up cases of clerical sex abuse, an allegation that has not been proved.
But organizers are playing down disruption worries. “They are not at all a concern,” said one government official. “They’ll be there, but they were there before and they’ll be there again.”
Lord Patten of Barnes, the former governor of Hong Kong whom the government drafted to lead coordination efforts, told Vatican Radio on July 26 that Britain is a free society in which people have every right to make their concerns known.
He said he found it “curious” that there’s “as much protest as when the head of a totalitarian country comes to the U.K.”
Lord Patten, who is a Catholic, noted that an “intellectually developed” atheism has taken root in the public and media agenda but said he isn’t concerned about hostility directed against the church. “We need to stand our ground,” he said. “Some secularists are intolerant of the church as some church groups were in the past . . . it’s one of the ironies of life.”
Organizers prefer to focus on the widespread worldwide interest about the Pope’s trip — the first state visit of a pontiff to Great Britain.
“The whole thing about it being a state visit has really caught people’s interest, particularly Catholics, who really do see it as something of an affirmation,” Summersgill said. He noted some “sensationalizing” coverage in the press but said “that is beginning to change and people are beginning to reflect on the hopes and expectations for the visit.”
The Vatican is confident that people will receive the Pope warmly once they see him in the flesh.
“The moment he arrives, things change very perceptibly,” said a Vatican official, who recalled that vociferous demonstrations were planned in Turkey, but everything changed when the Holy Father arrived there in 2006.
Another official stressed that, every place he’s gone, “the media has been hostile in advance and then absolutely disarmed.”
“When people see him up close, they see he’s transparent, that he’s a holy man, and what you see is what you get, even though he’s extraordinarily shy,” he said.
Benedict XVI’s short but intense apostolic voyage to Britain begins in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth II will meet him before he travels to nearby Glasgow, where he will celebrate an open-air Mass.
For the rest of the visit, he will stay mostly in London, visiting a Catholic university, addressing British political and cultural leaders at the Houses of Parliament, praying at the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey, and celebrating Mass at the capital’s main Catholic place of worship, Westminster Cathedral.
The final day of the visit will be spent in Birmingham, where the Pope will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian Benedict XVI admires greatly.
Benedict XVI’s speeches are likely to focus on common areas of concern to both the Vatican and the British government, such as Third World poverty, nuclear proliferation, and the environment, according to Vatican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But the Pope also will bring up other issues often sidelined in British public life, such as protection of the unborn, the family, and other life issues, although as with other visits, he generally will steer away from directly entering into politics.
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