, LONDON, Sep 12 – The faithful wanting to see Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain this week have been asked to make a "financial contribution" to attend masses to help make up a shortfall in funding.
When they go to the events, they will also be urged to buy t-shirts, baseball caps and tea cups commemorating the visit, as the Catholic Church\’s marketing arm swings into action.
The Church is asking for 25 pounds (30 euros, 38 dollars) per head to attend the open-air mass in Birmingham, central England, on September 19, the final day of the visit.
The contribution is slightly lower for the mass in Glasgow on Thursday, at 20 pounds, and entry to the prayer vigil in London on Saturday is five pounds.
All the prices include transport to the venues and a "pilgrim pack" — a bag containing a CD and a booklet about the visit.
While asking for payment to attend a papal mass is believed to be unprecedented, the Catholic Church has denied it amounts to an entrance fee.
"Those contributions only cover the costs of the transport and the security provisions," said Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England.
"It includes their travel so it\’s not as if it is a payment to go to mass."
The funding of the first ever state visit by a pope to Britain is expected to cost around 20 million pounds and has attracted controversy as taxpayers are footing 10 to 12 million pounds of the bill.
That leaves a 10-million-pound shortfall for the Catholic Churches in England, Scotland and Wales to pick up, of which six million pounds has already been raised through a public appeal for funds.
The "financial contributions" to attend the masses will make up the rest.
More than three quarters of Britons are against meeting even half the cost of the visit, according to a poll by public theology think tank Theos this month.
The contentious cost will be one of the focuses of the multi-issue demonstration planned for Saturday in London\’s Hyde Park.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the visit was a "waste of enormous sums of taxpayers\’ money" at a time when Britain is about to embark on deep cuts in public spending.
But for the truly committed, a host of souvenirs are on sale, ranging from a gold medallion emblazoned with the official logo of the visit for a hefty 775 pounds to a t-shirt picturing Benedict with outstretched arms for 18 pounds.