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Catholics pony up for visit from pope

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI will sweep into the United States late this afternoon, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base with all the pageantry of a major world religious figure and with the pomp of a head of state.

What no one is discussing is the exact cost of the six-day visit, which could go as high as $10 million, paid from private donations to the New York or Washington archdioceses.

Papal trips are pricey because of the security and logistics of transporting a pope to multiple venues. Open-air Masses — of which there will be two at Yankee and Nationals stadiums — cost thousands of dollars in equipment rental, media towers and labor costs.

It is not clear whether the Vatican pays for transporting the pontiff on his Alitalia Shepherd One jet or shipping costs for his Mercedes-Benz popemobile, built at a cost of $511,000. Journalists who accompany the pope pay top dollar — more than $4,000 each — for round-trip tickets on the papal plane.

The bulk of the expenses are paid by the hosting diocese. John Paul II's 1987 swing through nine dioceses in 10 days cost American Catholics $20 million. His one-day stop in St. Louis in 1999 cost $7 million, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

In a March interview, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl came up with a $3 million estimate for the D.C. portion of the papal visit, adding that he would like to raise another $1 million to send back to Rome as a "gift he could use for the poor around the world."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York did not have an estimate for its end of the visit, but money from a second collection from its 405 parishes on Easter Sunday went toward defraying the costs.

Related costs include the $800,000 Catholic University of America is raising to pay for security, landscaping and other items associated with Benedict's visit to campus Thursday. The Rev. David M. O'Connell, the university's president, told The Washington Times last week that he had raised $400,000 from private donations.

The Metropolitan Police Department told The Times last week that security costs alone would be "in the millions" and that the Vatican would foot the bill.

Several sources said raising money for a papal visit is not difficult and that the big contributors will be invited to the White House: either to tomorrow morning's ceremony on the South Lawn or to a more formal dinner tomorrow night in the East Room.

"There will be three or four people who will come up with the big money," said Raymond L. Flynn, who was a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration. "The well-connected Catholics like Benedict."

"There is an infrastructure in place for large fundraising in the Catholic sector," said Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The archbishop doesn't have to do Tupperware parties."

"My guess is this is being underwritten by a small group of Catholic philanthropists," said the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, a service network. "People are very generous toward the Holy Father."

"When you get the call from the archbishop for something as special as this, it's a big deal," said Joseph J. Dempsey Jr., executive director of the Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order. "It might be a little easier than other asks the archbishop has to make."

The Knights of Columbus gave a "substantial contribution in the six figures" to both archdioceses and to the Eternal Word TV Network, which is broadcasting the visit, said Patrick Korten, a spokesman for the fraternal society.

"There are some wealthy Catholics who've ponied up a good bit," he said. "We've made some donations to help out with these events. We are always there for the pope.

"This is obviously a very big deal for Catholics in the United States as it's his first visit to see us," he added. "This country is extremely important to the future of the Catholic Church. The Western Hemisphere is generally not only the Christian hemisphere but the Catholic hemisphere in the world."