The Pope’s visit to Birmingham will be “the proudest moment” of an historic journey to Britain which will captivate the world, according to the Prime Minister’s personal representative.
Chris Patten, who was appointed by David Cameron to oversea the Papal visit, said the eyes of the world would be on the UK as Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the city to honour John Henry Newman, Birmingham’s famous cardinal.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and former Archbishop of Birmingham, shrugged off claims that worshippers had been slow to apply for tickets to take part in the event, in Cofton Park.
The Pope will celebrate Mass and beatify of Cardinal Newman, one step short of declaring him a saint.
Some reports have suggested worshippers were reluctant to part with the £25 contribution required to help pay for costs including security, but Archbishop Nichols said the park would be almost full.
The pair were speaking in Westminster as they prepared for the Pope’s arrival in Edinburgh on Thursday, where he will be greeted by the Queen.
Lord Patten, a former Cabinet Minister and Governor of Hong Kong, said: “The entire visit is going to be televised with the eyes of the world on Britain.
“I think it gives us a chance to convey to a national and international audience some strong messages about our policies and our goals.
“The visit will be of particular interest to the 30 per cent of Americans, the 40 per cent of Canadians and the 25 per cent of Australians who are Catholic.
“And it will of course be of very great interest to every European country and to the large populations in Latin America and Africa.”
“So it will have particular significance for the Commonwealth, but I think it will be a schedule-stopper right around the world as far as news editors are concerned.
“There are a number of images that will last and make the visit truly special.
“Her Majesty the Queen meeting the Pope at Holyrood House, the Pope speaking at Westminster Hall, and going to the plaque which marks where St Thomas More was tried, and the Popemobile movement from Whitehall to Hyde Park.
“And I think perhaps for many in the Church, the proudest moment will be the beatification ceremony, the only one the Pope has performed outside the Vatican, in Cofton Park in Birmingham, which is where Cardinal Newman used to take his country walks.”
Archbishop Nichols said it was harder for people to attend Papal events than it had been during Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1982, because security had to be tighter.
He said: “At Cofton Park we know there will be 1,000 coaches that are filled and arriving there.
“That gets us more or less to the estimated capacity, once you add in a couple of thousand VIPs, a choir a couple of thousand strong and other people.
“So we expect about 54,000 to 55,000 people to be on-site at Cofton Park, which is not far off the arrangements that were put in place, given also that we had to leave some space for the Popemobile to go round.”