Suffer little children

Two weeks ago I was delighted when my parish priest informed me that we had been allocated tickets to attend the Beatification of Cardinal Newman Mass which is going to be performed by Pope Benedict on his forthcoming visit. Cardinal Newman holds particular resonance for us as a family and it is very apt that we are privileged enough to be able to attend the Mass.

I informed my priest that I did not intend to take my six-year-old, fearing that the long coach journey and Mass itself would be too long, arduous and solemn an occasion for her, one which she would not enjoy or appreciate. I do however intend to take my baby daughter who is 8 months old. I am still breast-feeding therefore it isn’t really feasible to leave her in care, for such a long period of time, particularly as she isn’t used to my being away for more than about an hour at a time. Given her age, she does not require a seat either on the coach or at the event itself, she will happily sit/sleep on my lap. I am also additionally blessed in that, for the most part, she is a contented baby, she is used to being in a church environment and likes nothing better than silently contemplating the candles. Face it, when you’re 8 months old, a church is a fascinating environment for a baby. I attribute it to the fact that she was used to the sounds of lots of church in utero and also I tend to be quite relaxed, for want of a better word, in Church. I’m not tense, stressed about whether or not she is going to scream or babble and thus she doesn’t, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, although she’s becoming rather too interested in my Missal.

Anyway, last week my priest informed me that the organisers had told him that I needed to pay £25 for a ticket for the baby. I was incandescent and still am jolly cross if I’m honest. My priest said that he felt that this charge was quite wrong and suggested that we turn up on the coach and plead ignorance in terms of not having a ticket for the baby. Last week he passed on that the diocesan organisers had been very clear that this £25 charge was non-negotiable. If we want to take the baby we must pay full adult price, despite the fact she will take up no extra room and certainly won’t appreciate the ridiculous “goody bag” containing a pilgrim’s CD and material that is “included” in this price. Apparently the diocesan organiser countered his objections with “well people need to consider whether or not its suitable to bring young children to this event”. So basicallly, it has been decreed that children are an inconvenience/nuisance and not welcome at a Mass. It really is a case of “suffering the little children”.

I am incredulous at this attitude. It is not easy to be a lay catholic at the moment. The Papal visit was inevitably going to attract criticism and the usual round of misinformed catholic bashing, but frankly, the organisation really takes the biscuit. I do not need to be patronised and penalised for choosing to take a young baby to a Mass. Disneyland wouldn’t charge me for her, nor would an airline, recognising that she needs no extra facilities. It is very difficult to defend the church against accusations of misogyny when they seem to be penalising me for the fact that I have a young baby who is totally dependent on me.

For us as a family, an extra £25 is significant and precludes my attendance. I also wonder whether or not it is appropriate to charge £25 for pre-teens? Given First Holy Communion typically takes place around the ages of 7-8, this means that an average family of 4 consisting of 2 adults and 2 children need to pay £100, if they want to attend this special occasion. A weekend at any of the UK’s major theme parks would cost less. I appreciate that the Catholic Church cannot be left in debt as a result of the papal visit and that it is only fair that those attending need to contribute, although it seems very unfair that those in Scotland do not need to pay.

I am deeply disappointed however that the organisation has been such that those of us who are delighted that the Pope is visiting, those of us who believe that he is a truly great man,  and I am one; I believe Benedict XIV is a vastly underrated pope. Faithful catholics who wish to turn up and show him our support are thwarted due to the poor organisation of this visit. I don’t blame the Catholic Church or the vatican or claim it’s some sort of silly conspiracy, I just wish that whoever was put in charge of logistics had done a better job, by organising infinitely more capacity and perhaps more opportunities for us lay Catholics to show our appreciation for the Holy Father. I fear that such an event is unlikely to be repeated in the near future. I also pray that the visit itself does not descend into a shambles.

For those of us Catholics wishing to share and pass on our faith to our children, I find the attitude that children are not welcome, that they may somehow spoil the solemnity of the occasion, more than a little depressing. What message are we giving to our children? Christian parents have a hard enough job as it in terms of attempting to instill a set of values which is completely at odds with today’s society, a society which at times, is actively hostile towards Christian culture. I also do not take kindly to the notion of a charge as being an appropriate deterrent. Surely as a parent, I am able to discern for myself whether or not it is suitable/appropriate to take my children? I was heartened to see a considerable amount of children visiting the relics of Saint Teresa of Lisieux at Aylesford Priory last year.

Still as Pope Benedict himself said “it is not easy being a Christian”. I am sure he would be horrified to learn that the Gospel’s message has been distorted to “let the children come unto me” (and I will charge them £25 for the privilege).

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