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Risk and Danger: The Pope's travels to the UK
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2010-09-23 07:32:31
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The visit to the United Kingdom by Pope Benedict XVI has not been a pleasant one.  Prior to his arrival, a question mark hovered over proceedings as to who would fund the visit, predicted to be some 15 million pounds excluding extra policing and security (BBC News, May 21).  In a survey done by the Christian think tank Theos, 25 percent were against the visit, with only 8 percent of respondents agreeing that the tax payer should foot the bill.  Contributions were sought to defray costs.  Numbers regarding open-air masses in Glasgow, Birmingham and London were scheduled to be down, though this did not transpire as the visit continued.  The poor communication between dioceses and the parishes, it had been suggested, was responsible for the initial hiccup over the sale of tickets (The Independent, Sep 13).

It did not take long for one of the Pope’s representatives to come out fighting.  On arriving at Heathrow airport, Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke of arriving at a ‘Third World’ country, feeling that he had stepped into a world sliding into the darkness.  Priyamvada Gopal of Cambridge University was not that disappointed by that crude designation, seeing it as an ‘aspiration’ rather than an ‘insult’ (The Guardian, Sep 20).  Others saw it as an opportunity – from land of wealth to land of the basket case.  A prophesy fulfilled?  For some yes.  The term third world is simply that, a term with no meaning, an epithet of abuse.  People have been left scratching their heads.

Little wonder then, that even more excitement was generated by the prospects that the Holy Father had become the target of terrorists operating as street sweepers.  Six men were detained after raids at eight homes in North and East London.  The security services have had to be particularly diligent, though nothing seems to have come out of the mix.  As various sources have learned: ‘The men could have been joking, but they could also have been a viable threat’ (Epoch Times, Sep 18).  As time passes, the allegations seem less credible. 

The tradition of attempting to assassinate the pontiff is certainly not a barren one.  A failed attempt was made on the life of John Paul II by the sniper Mehmet Ali Ağca in May 1981, for which he was lucky to escape.  The connection with the pro-Soviet Bulgarians has been alleged time and time again, and Cold War theorists have continued to have a field day.

The pontiff, unshaken by such distractions, has been complaining about a familiar theme – the emergence of a type of secular fundamentalism that poses a threat to the divine.  Christianity, he warned, had been marginalised before the march of ‘aggressive secularisation’, with Britain being a primary perpetrator.  “Atheistic extremism” was afoot in England’s green fields. 

This, of course, is hardly new as a historical theme.  One does not simply have to leaf through the latest offering by Richard Dawkins to realise that the tradition is rich.  Dawkins, wishing to be ever controversial, had suggested along with the prickly Christopher Hitchens that the Pope be arrested for crimes against humanity.  In Dawkins’s words, ‘This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence’ (Sunday Times, Apr 11).  Precisely because he was not, strictly speaking, the head of a state recognised by the United Nations, diplomatic immunity would have proven no bar.

There were stages of some colour and moments of symbolic reconciliation – the embrace by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey went some way to that, as rich in costume as it was.  At the trip’s end, the Pope accomplished what many Catholics in the United Kingdom were hoping for: the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.  The Prime Minister David Cameron made a last effort to be convincing about Britain’s religious credentials.  ‘When you think of our country, think of it as one that not only cherishes faith, but one that is deeply, but quietly, compassionate’ (BBC News UK, Sep 19).  Despite all this, such quietness may well have been too much, even for the Pope.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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Emanuel Paparella2010-09-23 08:09:25
Not to add to the quietness, but perhaps it bears pointing out to the fanatical atheist frantically protesting the Papal visit and calling for the Pope’s arrest and prosecution and jailing in the tower of London, that Henry VIII , the “defender of the faith” and St. Thomas Moore, the man who dared defy a king over the same faith, must both have been turning in their graves at a Pope’s visit to England in the 21st century, albeit on different sides of history. It has been speculated that if England were to give back with interest to the Florentine bankers (the Medici family) the borrowed money that Henry VIII confiscated (along with all the Church property) when he arbitrarily declared himself the head of the Church, the UK would not have enough money to do so and in fact would go immediately bankrupt. That seems to be happening at the moment in any case, so it appears, even without restitution, if one is to judge from the controversy resembling a tempest in a tea cup raised by the country’s assorted secularists and atheists over the “exorbitant” expense to the public of the Papal visit.

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