LONDON – LONDON (AP) — Smaller crowds than initially expected will attend events scheduled during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales said Tuesday.
Organizers now anticipate around 55,000 worshippers to gather for the beatification of Cardinal Newman Sunday in Birmingham, central England, compared to the 80,000 people originally expected.
Fewer pilgrims are also expected at the open-air mass at Glasgow's Bellahouston Park than those who showed up at the venue for a mass given by Pope John Paul II there in 1982. This was not because of lack of interest, however, organizers said.
"I think one of the problems is that quite a lot of the trees in the park have grown since then, which is a tendency which trees have, which has altered the sight lines," said Lord Chris Patten, who is heading the government's part of the visit.
"Quite properly, welcoming as the citizens of Glasgow are, they don't want to cut down all their trees," he said.
John Paul II was the first pope ever to set foot on English soil, and his visit came at the height of his popularity at the time. Benedict's visit, starting Thursday, has been overshadowed by the church's clerical sex abuse scandal.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said security concerns and deliberate decisions by organizers were reasons that the church isn't anticipating the "uncountable crowds" Britain experienced during John Paul II's visit.
Organizers "decided that we would focus on the quality — the visual quality, the spiritual quality, the experience people would have when they get there," Nichols said.