Rumors rife Pope could pay Ballina a visit

YOU won't find it in his official itinerary, but Northern Rivers Catholics are buzzing with rumours that Pope Benedict XVI will take a three-day holiday in Ballina during his Australian visit next month.

A close friend of the Pope will be staying in the Ballina parish during World Youth Day celebrations, coinciding with a three-day rest break in the Pope's schedule, and rumour has it the Pope will make a quick trip to visit his friend.

Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna Christopher Schönborn is one of the frontrunners to be the next Pope, and he will visit Ballina with 43 young Austrians taking part in World Youth Day.

Although the Pope is scheduled to be in Sydney for his visit, there is a three-day gap in the program for the Pope to rest, and that is when it is believed the Holy Father may make the trip to the North Coast.

The Catholic Diocese of Lismore could not confirm if the Pope was planning a whirlwind visit to Ballina as part of the World Youth Day celebrations next month, but the rumour has everybody talking.

Catholic Diocese of Lismore World Youth Day 2008 executive officer Adam Sullivan said it would be a big deal for local Catholics if the Pope did visit Ballina.

"He has three days rest somewhere and they haven't confirmed anything about that," Mr Sullivan said. "I would presume he would stay in Sydney for his break, but no one really knows."

Ballina Shire Council tourism manager Liz Shepherd said she hadn't heard the Pope would be coming to the coast.

"If he was coming he would probably stay with a friend or a relative and it would be all kept very low key from a security perspective," she said.

Ballina mayor Phillip Silver said it would be a pleasure and an honour for the town if the Pope made the trip.

"We are having a Youth Day event and Mass at the Catholic Church with a number of delegates for World Youth Day," Cr Silver said.

"But it is the first I've heard of the Holy Father himself coming to town.

"We have a jet airport at Ballina and we would hopefully accommodate the Holy Father's aeroplane, and I'm sure we'd find accommodation in the region that was suitable for him.

"If he did come, we would do all we could to make his stay memorable."

Ballina Chamber of Commerce spokesman Brian Marriott said if the Pope was to visit, he could do a spot of fishing off the wharf at Lance Ferris Park.

"He could stay at the Ramada Hotel and Suites and we could give him a special area there in the penthouse - I'm sure management could arrange that," Mr Marriott said.

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