Irish pilgrims get just 2,500 passes for Pope's UK visit
Fewer than 3,000 Irish pilgrims will be able to attend a host of open-air events during the Pope's visit to England and Scotland next month.
It was expected that tens of thousands of Catholics would travel to Britain to see Pope Benedict XVI on his whirlwind four-day official visit.
However, only 2,500 so-called 'pilgrim passes' for the Pope's open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow have been made available to parishes in the North, while none have been allocated to the Republic.
But last night Irish church sources said that because the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference is an all-Ireland body, every effort would be made to distribute the modest allocation among all 26 dioceses here, north and south.
Tickets for two other major events -- a prayer vigil in London's Hyde Park and a ceremony marking the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman at Cofton Park in Birmingham -- will only be given to parishes in England and Wales.
Security at all three public celebrations will be tight and visitors must travel in parish groups headed by a 'pilgrim leader'. Each person in the group will have to hold a pass to gain admission.
This means that the only opportunity for many Irish Catholics to see the Pope will be when he travels through the streets of Edinburgh and London in the Popemobile. The routes through these cities have not yet been finalised.
The beatification of Cardinal Newman, who had strong connections with Ireland and was the first rector of University College Dublin, was expected to be one of the biggest draws for Irish Catholics.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Church in England said no passes for the September 17 event, which has a capacity of 80,000, will be given to parishes here and instead Irish people were being catered for at the Glasgow Mass.
Around 100,000 people are expected at Bellahouston Park to see the Pope on the first day of his visit. Of these, the vast majority will be from parishes in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Catholic Bishops' Conference said only parishes in the North would receive passes as the Pope, having been invited by the queen, will be on a state rather than a pastoral visit.
"There are two ways the Irish can see the Pope: they could get involved in the street celebrations in Edinburgh, or, depending on their connections with the North, they could go through parishes there. However, that's dependent on each parish and how many tickets they have left over," he added.
Travel operators in Ireland said they had expected to arrange tours to Britain for the Pope's visit, however the "demand didn't materialise".
Meanwhile, the Irish bishops will announce details of who among the hierarchy will travel to Britain for the papal visit in the coming weeks.
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