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Dublin: 16°C Saturday 25 September 2021

Pope's visit: Blimey. What to say to the Pope? A good joke ought to clinch it. . .

As he waits to the meet the Pope, one question torments London mayor Boris Johnson. Should the Popemobile be liable for the congestion charge?

Jennifer O'Connell

THERE WE WERE on the tarmac at Heathrow as the Papal jet prepared to land. The cameras were trained on the night sky. The red carpet was rolled out. The charming Foreign Office people tried for the umpteenth time to remind me where to stand – and all the while my mind was whirring with a single question. It is a problem that goes to the heart of the relationship between church and state. It is a question that will be studied by future generations of students of theology and patristics, because the answer we give – and the answer you give, off the top of your head – is an indication of the balance currently existing between the privileges of spiritual leaders and the egalitarian demands of our temporal world.

Never mind abortion or paedophile priests. As Pope Force One taxied towards us, there was one issue still revolving in my mind at the speed of a Rolls-Royce fan jet. Should the Popemobile be liable for the congestion charge and, if not, why not? Should the Holy Father have to pay £8 to drive through Westminster, like everyone else? Or should that fee be waived, in recognition of his status as the vicar of Christ on Earth? It is a tough one, and I am sure there will be clear-sighted readers of this paper who will take opposite views; and it is that very division of instinct that is so revealing about the psychology of this country.

It was an honour and a privilege to be asked to meet the Pope at Heathrow, and I had spent the previous couple of days thinking what to say. Some of my Catholic friends said I should kiss his ring. I think they were having me on. Some said I should speak in Latin, or try some disarming witticism. I attempted to cook up a gag about Dark Ages Britain being lost to the See of Rome, and how thrilled the hard-pressed Christian community was when Saint Augustine turned up. The punchline was going to be “long time no See”.

Boris Johnson is a British Conservative politician and currently mayor of London.

Read the full article at the Daily Telegraph.

About the author:

Jennifer O'Connell

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