Papal visit souvenirs go on sale in Britain

LONDON (Reuters) - Official memorabilia to mark Pope Benedict’s September visit to Britain went on sale this week with a Swarovski bracelet and baseball cap among the more usual souvenir mugs and T-shirts.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leads his Angelus prayer from the balcony of his summer residence in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome August 1, 2010. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Sales are expected to help the local Roman Catholic church cover the costs of the visit, but some worshippers are unhappy at plans to charge to see the Pope at some events.

The first state papal visit to England and Scotland has already attracted controversy over its cost and because of the worldwide child sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests.

Tens of thousands of the church’s estimated five million followers in Britain are nevertheless expected to attend public events in London, Birmingham and Glasgow, during the four-day visit.

Parishes are showing a keen interest in papal flags to decorate churches, halls and schools, a Roman Catholic spokesman said, but worshippers have the chance to buy a range of items including electronic flashing candles costing three pounds, and keyrings and fridge magnets at five pounds each.

Many of the online items feature an image of the pope and the trip’s motto: “Heart Speaks unto Heart.”

Organisers have had to restrict the number of worshippers at public events because of health and safety rules, disappointing many followers who remember the only other papal visit in 1982, when crowds flocked to see Pope John Paul.

Tickets will be restricted to groups organised through dioceses and local parishes.

The 70,000 due to attend the beatification of the Victorian theologian and Anglican convert Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham, are expected to be asked to pay 25 pounds towards a “pilgrims pack” which will cover transport and other costs.

The 85,000 attending a prayer vigil in London’s Hyde Park will be asked to pay 5 pounds.

The Roman Catholic church in England and Wales described it as a contribution, but the media described the move as unusual.

In Scotland, people will be asked to make a donation of 20 pounds to attend an open-air Mass.

People responding to a blog on the website of the Catholic Herald newspaper largely opposed the fee, saying it was wrong.

“Sometimes it does quite simply feel like Catholics are getting a wee bit shortchanged on this trip, having to pay once through taxes, a second time in the collection and a third time to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father,” one contributor wrote.

Others have defended the cost, saying it was necessary to prevent the church plunging into financial difficulties.

The cost to the British taxpayer rose to 10-12 million pounds, up from an initial estimate of about 8 million pounds, excluding security, it was announced last month.

The church will contribute an additional minimum of seven million pounds.

Editing by Steve Addison