Belfast Telegraph

Travellers camp out in hopes of papal blessing

A group of Co Donegal Travellers has set up camp in the British city of Birmingham in the hope of being blessed by the Pope at an open-air Mass next month.

Around 16 families moved on to a beauty spot near Hall Green on Tuesday, telling locals they were in the city to attend Pope Benedict XVI's open-air mass in Cofton Park on September 19.

But the Irish group could be out of luck as they need special tickets for the event.

The local area, a childhood haunt of JRR Tolkien, is believed to have provided inspiration for the author's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Local councillor Martin Mullaney said the Donegal Travellers told him they had made their way from Ireland and had no idea the service was ticketed.

Pilgrim passes have been allocated to parish priests who will distribute them to parishioners at a cost of ?30 each.

Cllr Mullaney said: "About 16 families moved on to one of our historic parks, which has links to JRR Tolkien, so I went along to see them.

"I asked them what they were doing in Birmingham and what they said to me was, 'We've come here to see the Pope because we want to get his blessing at the Mass in Birmingham'.

"When I asked them if they had pilgrim passes, the response was, 'What passes?'

"Our fear now is that there is a huge community of Irish Travellers on their way so we want to be proactive and make it clear that there are no spaces available.

"The pilgrim passes have all already been allocated to parish priests, and there will be no admission to the Mass without a pass."

Cllr Mullaney, Birmingham City Council cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said council officials met with police and representatives of the Catholic Church yesterday to work out how to deal with the situation.

The Travellers were told to leave the field off Wake Green Lane in Hall Green on Tuesday but simply relocated in a park across the road.

A seven-day eviction notice has now been served and the families are being encouraged to move onto a disused car-park in the Moseley area of Birmingham.

A Birmingham City Council spokeswoman said: "The arrival of pilgrims will be by coach only and timed according to an agreed programme to ensure ease of access and departure.

"Anybody without a pass will not be allowed inside the park."

The Pope's visit to Birmingham will conclude a four-day trip to the UK that will begin in Edinburgh on September 16, where he will meet the Queen.

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