WITH SIX weeks to go before Pope John Paul II's third visit to Slovak territory, the funding being requested by church officials, government organisations, and seemingly anyone else who can get in on the action is getting increasingly absurd.
Total requests for state budget funds made by towns, the church, and state organisations to cover the four-day tour have now exceeded Sk270 million (€6.4 million), while the government has so far committed itself to paying Sk79 million (€1.88 million).
This is rather a hefty bill for the Slovak taxpayer to foot. When the pontiff visited Spain in May, the trip cost the Spanish church (note, not the government) approximately €1.3 million, which it recouped through the sale of 500,000 tickets.
The Ukrainian government allocated €1.2 million for the pope's visit in June 2001, around €710,000 of which went to repairing a cathedral.
The pope's visit to Slovenia in 1999 cost a total of DEM 6.5 million, then around €3.3 million, of which the church contributed DEM 1.5 million through the sale of souvenirs, collections and sponsors.
So, why will it be so expensive in Slovakia? Simple. Everyone wants a piece of the pie.
While Catholic dioceses in other countries he has visited have been able to cover all, or at least part of His Eminence's not inconsiderable expenses by raising revenue, Slovakia's Catholic leaders instead claim poverty, and want Sk60 million (€1.4 million) from Slovak taxpayers just to cover their organisation's costs for the visit.
Slovakia's church organisations already get Sk700 million (€16.8 million) annually from the state budget, the bulk of which goes to the Roman Catholic denomination, the country's largest.
But impecunious priests are not the only ones wanting to send the pope's bill to the Slovak treasury.
Each of the towns on John Paul II's itinerary has also requested money: Banská Bystrica, Bratislava, Trnava, and Rožnava have together asked for more than Sk85 million (€2 million) to accommodate the pope; at present the government is offering them Sk26 million (€622,000).
Petržalka church, where the Sunday mass is planned, has asked for Sk20 million (€479,000), the same amount requested by the Interior Ministry to pay for the pope's security detail.
Public broadcaster STV has also joined the queue: Its managers claim the 14 hours of coverage planned for the papal visit will cost Sk12.2 million (€292,000), which the station is unable to pay by itself. The broadcaster assumes the state will assist. But STV is asking for more than three times the amount they spent on the pontiff's previous visit, in the mid 1990s. Why? Because they cannot possibly film the pope without spending Sk4 million on new cameras. Obviously.
Slovakia has a well deserved reputation for hospitality, and doubtlessly Slovaks will give John Paul II and the many pilgrims expected to follow him a warm welcome. But allocating millions of state euros to fund gala receptions, luxury hotel suites, and proselytizing activities is not helping the Slovak taxpayer.
4. Aug 2003 at 0:00