Pope visit: Thousands of tickets unsold

By Peter Wozniak

As many as 10,000 tickets for the climax of the Pope’s visit to the UK have not been sold.

The event to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, considered the highlight of the pontiff’s contentious state visit to Britain, has suffered from particularly poor ticket sales, which Catholic Church officials have blamed on its early starting time.

The beatification had already been scaled back to a smaller venue in Birmingham due to poor sales, with only 50,000 tickets, at £25 apiece, sold so far.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols told reporters in the Foreign Office this lunchtime that the Church did not sell tickets but “contributions towards travel and security”.

One thousand coaches are set to arrive at Cofton Park in Birmingham bringing a total crowd of up to 55,000, he said, adding: “This is not a little gathering.”

The low sales mean that the Vatican authorities will struggle to cover the £10 million costs it is required to pay for the Pope’s pastoral events while in the UK.

A further £10 million has already been allocated by the government for costs of the state visit, excluding security.

These costs will be shared by various Whitehall departments, though any taxpayer-funding of the visit has been strongly opposed by humanist and secular groups planning to protest the visit in demonstrations over the weekend.

The Pope’s stance on abortion, contraception and UK equality laws have engendered disquiet even among British Catholics, polls suggest.

Prime minister David Cameron said in a video message released this afternoon he offered Pope Benedict a “very warm welcome to Britain” for his “incredibly important and historic visit”.

“These will be a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics but for many people of faith right across Britain and for millions more watching around the world,” he said.

“The fellowship and solidarity that unite us are not just Christian values but British values – values we cherish right across our society, among people of every faith and none.

“Not everyone will agree with everything the Pope says. But that should not prevent us from acknowledging the Pope’s broader message can help challenge us to ask searching questions about our society and about how we treat ourselves and each other.”

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest-ranking Catholic in the country, stressed that the visit would have a positive effect on the state of the Catholic Church in Britain.

“It improves morality in the Catholic Christian community. It will outweigh any fears, any worries, any depression that folk might feel about the cost. I look forward to it very, very positively,” he said.

The Pope begins his visit on Thursday in Scotland, and will attend events in London, Twickenham as well as Birmingham.

A large protest is scheduled to take place in central London on Saturday.