Church Of Noise

Posted on 15th September 2010

So the Pope is coming to Birmingham this Sunday, much to the annoyance and irritation of many local residents as well many nationally. He'll be giving a mass in Cofton Park, which is a short walk from where I live. Being so close, the local council has classed us in a restricted area. As a consequence this weekend we'll be prisoners in our own home unless we can prove where we live. We are not allowed visitors, unless we visit them first and give them proof that they are coming to see us.

The restricted area covers quite a large area of Rubery, Rednal, Cofton and Longbridge, and many local businesses are going to suffer. The 2 big pubs, The Old Hare And Hounds and The Oak, the Lai Ling Thai restaurant and the Old Rose And Crown hotel will all being affected, as people travel from outside the area to frequent them on a weekend. I suspect they will either be closed all weekend, or they'll be defiant and local residents will all go out to make a point.

From 6pm on Saturday until 8pm on Sunday we have been told expect severe disruption as roads are closed around the park and restricted access is put in place. Coaches carrying 70,000 people will then descend on Cofton Park from early Sunday morning at around 3am until the mass at 10am. Where these several thousand coaches are going to park is anyone's guess. The mass itself will be heard around the local area thanks to a very large PA system that is being erected. I wonder how many lawsuits local residents will be filing against the Catholic Church if even a whisper is heard through it before 8am on Sunday morning. Technically the pope could even be served with an ASBO.

Cofton Park itself was closed off for public use from last weekend, and won't opened again until a week after the visit. It's supposed to be a public park, and it's being closed for 3 weeks. So much for William Walter Hinde's will bequeathing the park "to be kept for ever as an open space for the benefit of the people of Birmingham."

As we're living in a restricted area, if we leave it, even just to go to the high street shops in Rubery or across the Bristol Road to Great Park for an evening out, unless we carry proof of address, we will not be allowed back in. Even if we're on foot! Apparently the area will be (excessively) policed to ensure no one is there that shouldn't be, so I'm assuming that stop and search will be in full effect, with civil liberties through out the window.

On top of all this we have to pay for it. The church are allegedly covering £9m-£10m for the cost of the visit to the UK, while the tax payer is expected to pay over £12m. A large portion of the population are not catholic, and have no interest in his visit, but local residents are told to pay for the privilege. As you might guess many local residents are not impressed. To make matters worse he's a pope that has a huge dark cloud looming over him because of various child abuse scandals he has been involved in covering up. I'm told he's probably the most unliked pope there has ever been.

So why do the non-catholics have to pay anything? As far as I'm concerned, if he wants to come here, the Catholic Church should foot the complete bill. And in addition should pay compensation to the local councils, which should be put towards community projects, that will benefit everyone in the area, not just a select few.

Several months ago a local councillor or MP, appeared on local news saying something along the lines that the visit would benefit local people with jobs and the like. Others make even bolder statements. Not sure how this can benefit local people, as all the ground crew, police and other support staff are being drafted in, and local businesses are going to severely disrupted. Even the trinket and tshirt sellers aren't from the local area.

And speaking of trinket sellers, how is it that the Catholic Church can rake in profits from sales of their cheap tat, and not expect to cover the remaining costs of the visit? Looking at the pictures it really is cheap tat, except being charged out at over inflated prices. Has the Catholic Church plummeted so low as to be nothing more than Del Boy and Rodney Trotter in the guise of official merchandise?

I remember visiting Lourdes in the South of France over 20 years ago. The initial impression that struck me then was how tacky the place was with all the cheap street sellers, and even the official sellers. The grotto site itself was actually quite peaceful, and although I wasn't caught up with the religious overtones, was relieved to find the grotto devoid of merchandise sellers. The town of Lourdes itself was quite nice, and I did enjoy visiting the Château fort de Lourdes by cable car on the outskirts of the town. In many ways it's a shame that the religious nature of the town over shadows other aspects of the town that are just as worthy of a visit.

It's crossed my mind whether after the visit we'll see parts of the turf from Cofton Park ripped up and sold on eBay, with the heading "The Pope stood here!". The Catholic Church has already plummeted the depths, so I wouldn't be surprised.

Just how much inconvenience and disruption can one man cause, particular when only a small minority from the area actually want him there!

I, like others I suspect, will be awkward just for the sake of being awkward this weekend and see how much hassle it causes to prevent me from entering my own home. I'm guessing the police and officials will just get fed up with residents and let them through anyway. We shall see.

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