Lord Chris Patten, named by the Prime Minister to be in charge of Benedict XVI’s trip to the United Kingdom, said that the visit will be “an incredible success.” He told Vatican Radio on 26th July that those who criticized the Pope’s Sept. 16-19 trip will be surprised to discover its importance. “I am absolutely certain that all the preparations undertaken by the government, local governments, the episcopal conferences of Scotland and England, will make the Pope’s visit an incredible success,” Patten affirmed.
He acknowledged that the preparation of the Papal visit has been more complex than expected, above all because the organizers underestimated the “complexity involved in fitting together the State visit aspects and the pastoral aspects, so that they were a seamless whole.” Patten explained that to a degree, it is almost easier to organize a visit of, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama, than a papal trip, because with state visits of presidents there aren’t the large events of 100,000 people or more at an open-air venue. Nonetheless, Patten affirmed that the organizers are “on top of things” and that the program of the Pontiff’s visit is “really exciting.”
He expressed the hope that the visit will “ensure, I hope, that the Catholic community and the faith communities are enabled to relate very closely to the Pope at pastoral events and interfaith events,” but that it will offer “the opportunity to demonstrate that the government of a largely non-Catholic country still has a formidably large agenda to work with the Catholic Church, many of which the government feels very strongly.”
Patten underlined some topics of common interest, such as overseas development, the Millennium Development Goals, global equity, climate change, sustainability of the environment, and disarmament issues. “When we ‘parade’ the importance of this relationship we will perhaps even surprise some people who were critical of this visit in the first place,” he added.
Patten acknowledged that the Pope’s visit has been much criticized, but he said it does not worry him. “We live in a free society,” he said. “If people want to protest peacefully, then they have every right to do so.” He added, however, that those who criticize “represent a small minority.”
Patten pointed out that there seems to be a certain religious intolerance that “is particularly directed at the Catholic Church because of the Catholic Church’s prominence, and longevity and self-confidence in asserting some basic truths. But I don’t worry too much about that,” he said. “I think we have to stand our ground, recognizing that when we do so, we’ve often been intolerant ourselves of others in the past. We must argue that it’s ironic that some secularists — not all — are being as intolerant of Church groups, as Church groups were of them in the past. I think this is one of the many ironies of life.”
Patten explained also that some criticisms are due to the costs of the Papal visit which, according to him, may cost up to £12 million. He noted, however, that the one-day G-20 summit that took place last year cost £20 million, and no leader of the G-20 participated in a meeting with 80 or 100,000 people. He asserted that Great Britain’s fiscal difficulties do not justify the closing of the country to the rest of the world.
Asked about the difficulty of transmitting the Pope’s message through the media, at times more interested in the superficial details, Patten said that it might in fact be difficult to transmit the message “that faith is not a problem, that faith is for many people the way they cope with the challenges of living in the 21st century.” He noted that it should be easier to transmit messages on social justice, for example, given “the interest of the younger generation in issues of social equity.”
Patten affirmed that most people probably are unaware that “25% of school education in Sub-Saharan Africa is provided by the Church, or that 25% of health care in Sub-Saharan Africa is provided by the Church and Church groups. I think the role of Church groups in caring for those who are suffering with HIV/AIDS isn’t as well known as one would like it to be.
He said he hoped “we are able to get those messages across clearly,” and that he’s “not at all pessimistic.”