The Catholic Church today defended its decision to change the venue of a beatification ceremony to be conducted by the Pope on his UK visit after a council said the new plans would cause thousands of people to miss out on the event.
Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to hold the open-air mass at Coventry Airport, but the service will instead take place at Cofton Park in Birmingham, which has a capacity of up to 80,000.
It is thought that the airport site could hold around 150,000, but a Catholic Church spokesman said the new venue had been selected because of its "historical resonance" and close association with Cardinal John Henry Newman, the revered 19th century clergyman and Catholic convert who will be beatified on the final day of the papal visit later this year.
Alexander des Forges, spokesman for the Catholic Church, said: "As a Church we have asked Birmingham City Council for Cofton Park to be the venue for the beatification of Cardinal Newman on September 19, the last day of the Pope's visit.
"I cannot comment at all on Coventry, but I can say that a significant number of pilgrims will be able to attend the beatification at Cofton Park.
"The point to make is that, whichever way you cut it, when it comes to the capacity we are looking at a very significant number of people will be able to attend."
The spokesman said organisers were expecting around 80,000 pilgrims to attend the Birmingham service.
He added: "With Cofton Park you have a very close association with Cardinal Newman because it is immediately adjacent to Oratory House in Rednal, where Cardinal Newman found a place of retreat for quiet reflection.
"And most particularly, he is buried in Rednal Cemetery.
"Choosing Cofton Park as a venue for the beatification will also enable the Pope to pay a private pilgrimage to the rooms of Cardinal Newman at Birmingham Oratory.
"It was very much about tying into the life and death of Cardinal Newman, and the historical resonance of Cofton Park.
"The real key to this is the association with Cardinal Newman."
A spokesman for Coventry City Council said the authority was "extremely surprised and disappointed" by the venue change.
He added: "While we understand the Catholic Church had specific reasons for changing the Pope's itinerary, we believe the event at Coventry Airport would have been the highlight of his visit and we're sorry that thousands of people will miss out on the opportunity to take part in what would have been a very special day."
The Pontiff's four-day trip will begin on September 16 in Scotland, where he will be received by the Queen at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh before travelling to Glasgow for an open-air mass at Bellahouston Park.
The Pope will then travel to London where he will meet the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace and pray with other church leaders at Westminster Abbey.
His itinerary will also include an address at Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.Reuse content