Jerome Taylor: Not even the Vatican is free from health and safety

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The Independent Online

When Pope John Paul II touched down at London Gatwick airport on 28 May 1982, it heralded the beginning of a remarkable six-day visit that saw millions of Catholics and non-Catholics flock to the streets to see the first ever pontiff to set foot on British soil.

Although there were security concerns, it was nothing like the multi-million pound operation that will cocoon Pope Benedict XVI behind a wall of steel this summer.

Across the country, enormous open-air events were held at a time when the concept of health and safety had barely been invented. At Wembley Stadium, Pope John Paul held a mass for 80,000 devotees. The following day he did the same for 24,000 at Crystal Palace.

In Coventry, a crowd thought to be somewhere in the region of 300,000 turned out to see him. In Manchester it was 200,000, York 190,000 and, in Cardiff, 35,000 youths greeted him at Ninian Park.

Those desperate to see the pontiff camped out for days for unticketed events that had little security beyond a large police presence.

But the world in 2010 is a very different place. The spectre of terrorism and stringent health and safety legislation makes the kind of open invitation events that greeted John Paul all but impossible.

The costs of hosting such events are also more expensive, with crowds expecting high-quality sound systems, large television screens and sufficient security.

Unlike music festivals, the Church cannot rely on corporate sponsors, but considering that the Catholic Church is one of the richest institutions in the world, many will still be surprised that expense is even an issue, especially as the taxpayer is already picking up a sizeable chunk of the tab.