In the past weeks confused but altogether not reassuring news about the planned Papal visit to the UK have started to circulate. Explosions of costs were mentioned, uncertainties about the venues and contrasts between the local bishops and the Vatican about where to celebrate the Beatification Mass of Cardinal Newman.
It is sad that such an important occasion (important because of the powerful symbolic value of a visit in a highly secularised country as the United Kingdom) should be clouded by issues like organisational failures and lack (or better: waste) of faithful’s money. Still, some broader issues arise from this situation.
The first is the character of the Beatification Mass. I can’t see how a mass celebrated in an airport can be as solemn and edifying as a Mass celebrated in a Cathedral or other church building. In an airport, the main aspect of the Mass (the sacrificial one) is clouded by the “gathering” aspect of the event. This is in my eyes better left to the Protestants. There is a reason why buildings have been erected for the purpose of celebrating Mass rather than looking for the next available open space, and it is because they are a more fitting place.
The second issue is the necessity of such megalomaniacal planning. I do not agree that when a Pope comes to visit a huge effort should be made to allow as many people as possible to see him. The Pope is the Head of the Universal Church and his visit has a high symbolic meaning irrespective of how many people are there to see him. It is not a contest to see who can mobilise the greatest masses.
The third issue is one of pure ability and competence. If there was the capacity of organising such huge events at a reasonable cost, without squandering money and remaining within budget, then such gigantic efforts might, hypothetically, start to make some sense. But this ability is obviously not there.
The fourth issue is how the faithful’s money is spent. From the relevant internet page we are informed that £350,000 are going to be spent for “evangelisation material” and £650,000 for “communication work” of various sort. For one event. This looks like “jobs for the boys” to me. Also notice the £200,000 on “fundraising costs” in a country where the Catholic Church is represented everywhere and most wealthy donors are just a phone call away. All this, whilst churches are closed for alleged lack of funds.
It is illusory to think that one can forward the Catholic cause in the United Kingdom by organising mass gatherings. Catholicism is promoted by being Catholic, saying it out loud and demanding to be heard in every matter touching the Catholic faith. The bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are evidently deficient in this and the “missionary zeal” that the Holy Father has demanded from them is clearly not there.
A couple of televised events will not make up for the lack of this missionary zeal. Particularly if they are mismanaged.