THE ARRIVAL of Pope Benedict XVI in Edinburgh on Thursday, on
the feast of St Ninian, marked the first ever state visit by any
Pope to the United Kingdom.
The Pope was greeted at the airport by the Duke of Edinburgh,
and the party travelled straight to the Palace of Holyroodhouse,
where the Queen was waiting.
In her speech of welcome, the Queen referred to the visit by his
predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1982. She commented with
pleasure on the advances made in understanding and communication
between different faiths in the United Kingdom in the years since
The Pope, in reply, stated his satisfaction on the achievements
of Church and state in the UK, citing the Good Friday Agreement. He
also praised Britain for standing up to the Nazis, and warned about
the influence of "aggressive atheism".
Proceedings at the Palace ended with a reception for invited
dignitaries, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Pope departed in the Popemobile, accompanied by the Roman
Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal
Keith O'Brien. Both were wearing shawls of the specially
commissioned St Ninian tartan designed by Matthew Newsome.
Their progress along Princes Street had been preceded by a St
Ninian's Day Parade featuring pipe bands and characters dressed as
William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Mary, Queen of Scots, Robert
Burns, John Knox, and, of course, St Ninian. The crowds were
estimated to number 100,000.
I was in Glasgow with an estimated 70,000 other pilgrims in
Bellahouston Park, waiting to take part in the papal mass later in
the afternoon. The Pope toured the park in his Popemobile shortly
before 5 p.m.
The mass began at 5.15. The platform had a specially
commissioned altar made from Carrara marble and Scots pine. The
Pope's chair was also built using Scots pine. Both were designed by
Niamh Quail (with assistance from the "Rapid Prototyping Unit at
An official welcome from the Archbishop of Glasgow, the Most
Revd Mario Conti, alluded to St John Ogilvie, who was martyred in
Glasgow, and also St Margaret.
Mass settings were composed by James MacMillan. The main choir
consisted of singers from parishes across Scotland. Music was
performed by brass and instrumental ensembles, as well as by
organ and clarsach.
The Pope's homily encouraged bishops to know and care for their
priests, for priests to do the same for their parishioners, and for
wider society, especially the young, to cherish their faith and to
respect their bodies and minds. This will make us happy: drugs and
other vices may give pleasure, but are destructive and divisive, he
With the end of the mass, a glorious and sunny papal day in
Scotland came to an end.
RELIGION has an essential place in the foundations of a state,
the Pope said on Friday afternoon.
In what was the key speech of his visit, delivered in
Westminster Hall - which, John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, told
Pope Benedict, was the "heart of our democratic tradition" - the
Pope praised Britain's "profound influence on the development of
participative government among the nations".
His audience consisted of members of both Houses of Parliament,
along with hundreds of representatives of "civil society". All
waited patiently, entertained occasionally by the band of the
Coldstream Guards, as the Pope made his way across Lambeth Bridge
and along Millbank.
Smalltalk was made - even on the dais where Gordon Brown was
seated next to Tony and Cherie Blair, together with John and Norma
Major, Lady Thatcher, William Hague, and Nick Clegg. And then
cheers from the crowd outside joined the clatter of police
helicopters, and the Pope was ushered in to a fanfare from the
After praising Britain's contribution to participative
government, the Pope moved on to a challenge: democracy based
merely on consensus was too fragile. He will have won supporters
for the example he chose of "the inadequacy of pragmatic,
short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems": the
global financial crisis.
He asked where the ethical foundations of a state were to be
found, and placed them in the interplay between reason and
religion. In the Catholic tradition, he said, the task of religion
was to provide a corrective, "to help purify and shed light upon
the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral
principles". In order to do this, religion itself had to be
subjected to reason.
Religion, then, was "not a problem for legislators to solve, but
a vital contributor to the national conversation". Here, the Pope
spoke again about the marginalisation of religion as he saw it in
British society, supplying the tabloid newspapers with their
headline by defending Christmas.
The Pope's speech was well received. There was long applause as
he rose from the dais, pausing briefly to greet Mr Clegg and the
past prime ministers and their wives. The applause followed him
the length of Westminster Hall, as he walked slowly in the company
of the Speaker, who showed him the plaque marking the place where
Sir Thomas More had been tried. Then it was out of the north door
in the company of Dr Williams to depart for evening prayer across
Parliament Square at Westminster Abbey.
IN A historic meeting on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI became the
first pope to visit Lambeth Palace. There he addressed the
Archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as diocesan bishops of
the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Pope was greeted with a warm round of applause in the Great
Hall of the Archbishop's Library at Lambeth Palace.
After an opening prayer, Dr Williams "recalled with great
gratitude" the improved relations between the two Churches during
the past 50 years.
In his short address, Dr Williams urged the bishops present to
be ready to "respond to the various trends in our cultural
environment that seek to present Christian faith as both an
obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect".
They "needed to be clear that the gospel of the new creation in
Jesus Christ is the door through which we enter into true liberty
and true understanding".
Dr Williams said that neither Church sought "political power or
control, or the dominance of the Christian faith in the public
sphere; but the opportunity to testify, to argue, sometimes to
protest, sometimes to affirm - to play our part in the public
debates of our societies".
In response, Pope Benedict gave thanks for the "remarkable
progress" on unity and mission which had been made between the two
Churches through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International
Commission (ARCIC) in the past 40 years.
He acknowledged that the "increasingly multicultural dimension
of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it
the opportunity to encounter other religions".
He said that this was an opportunity for witness, and that
"Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the
uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ."
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope then exchanged gifts,
before the Pope led the bishops in the Lord's Prayer, and concluded
with the Grace.
Dr Williams gave the Pope a leather-bound diptych of facsimile
full-page illuminations from the Lambeth Bible, which dates from
the 12th century. The Pope gave Dr Williams a copy of the Codex
Pauli, a finely bound copy of a newly illustrated text of all
Paul's letters in Greek.
The Pope then was welcomed into the home of Dr Williams and his
wife, Jane, for a private discussion.
A communiqué released after the meeting said that the two
leaders addressed issues of mutual concern for Anglicans and Roman
Catholics, and affirmed "the need to proclaim the gospel message of
salvation in Jesus Christ, both in a reasoned and convincing way
in the contemporary context of profound cultural and social
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that the visit of the
Pope was a "wonderful thing" and offered an opportunity for
Dr Sentamu called for a spirit of "gracious magnanimity"
towards the Pope from the British people, and praised Pope Benedict
for his comments on aggressive secularism: "I've been at it for a
long time now, so I'm very pleased he said something on it."
As he left Lambeth Palace for Westminster, the Pope was greeted
by supporters and protesters. About 100 women from the Catholic
Women's Ordination Group, supported by members of Women and the
Church (WATCH), held placards and banners.
The Revd Jean Mayland, a retired priest from Hexham, said she
was reciprocating the support Anglican women had received in the
past from Roman Catholics when they were campaigning for ordination
in the Church of England. The human-rights campaigner Peter
Tatchell was also there for a while, with other campaigners for
survivors of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
THOSE fortunate enough to have tickets began lining up at the
top of Great Smith Street before 3 p.m., to ensure that they
obtained a decent spot in Westminster Abbey for evening prayer, and
to witness the first Pope to enter the Collegiate Church of St
Peter in Westminster.
With registration by surname and airport-style security checks
(including a request for a recent utility bill), they had a long
wait. Not that the mixture of smartly dressed laypeople and clergy
from across a variety of denominations seemed to mind. They hardly
seemed to notice the handful of anti-Catholic proselytisers,
distributing tracts across the other side of Victoria Street, and
Once seated, the congregation was able to watch the Pope's
journey from Lambeth Palace to Westminster Hall, and his speech to
distinguished public figures, relayed on plasma screens in the
Abbey. The congregation greeted his speech with enthusiastic
The Popemobile arrived at the front entrance to the Abbey in
what seemed like little time. The Pope, with the Archbishop of
Canterbury at his side, was greeted at the entrance by the Dean,
the Very Revd Dr John Hall, who paused briefly to point out the 12
martyrs carved above the Abbey's entrance.
Dr Hall then welcomed Pope Benedict "most warmly as the first
Pope to visit the Church dedicated to St Peter", which, "for 600
years as a Benedictine Abbey, until the English Reformation,
enjoyed a close relationship of mutual support with the
After retiring to the Jericho Parlour to vest, during which the
Abbey's choir sang, the Pope said a prayer, before being introduced
to leaders of the Churches of the British Isles, who included the
Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd John Christie, and
the President of the Methodist Council, the Revd Alison Tomlin.
The collegiate procession, together with the Pope and Archbishop
of Canterbury, moved to places in the Abbey quire and sacrarium
as the hymn "Christ is made the sure foundation" was sung.
Dr Williams welcomed the Pope "on behalf of all Christian
communities of Great Britain". Pope Benedict thanked Dr Williams
for his welcome and said that "this noble edifice evokes England's
long history, so deeply marked by the preaching of the gospel and
the Christian culture to which it gave birth".
The Archbishop then introduced the Peace, and warmly embraced
the Pontiff. The cardinals and bishops seated to each side
followed suit, with hearty handshakes.
Dr Williams and the Pope venerated the St Augustine Gospels,
after which they each gave short addresses. The Pope said that the
historic occasion was a reminder "that what we share in Christ is
greater than what continues to divide us", and that there is a
continual challenge "to present the risen Lord as the deepest
response to the questions of our time".
The Pontiff's gentle delivery was not entirely in keeping with
his robust language: "It is the word of God precisely because it
is the true word. It leads us into obedience that must be free of
intellectual compromise and accommodation to the spirit of this
Dr Williams, in his address, spoke of the way "in our society we
can see the dehumanising effects of losing St Benedict's vision",
such as when people devote themselves to work at the expense of
relationship, and the worthlessness felt by many who had been made
A seminal moment was when the Pope and Archbishop moved to the
shrine of St Edward the Confessor to offer prayers. The Archbishop
prayed for blessing on "all who witness to the gospel's call in the
public life of our countries"; the Pope prayed that God would "heal
the divisions among Christians".
The congregation then stood to sing "All my hope on God is
founded". The blessing was spoken simultaneously by the Pope and
Dr Williams. As the Pope, helped by one of his aides, navigated the
steps down out of the sacrarium, the congregation broke into
STANDING on sunny Lambeth Bridge on Friday, waiting for the Pope
to emerge from Lambeth Palace and his meeting with the bishops and
archbishops of the Church of England, I found myself next to
Sister Veronica, a little nun from Cornwall with sky-blue eyes and
a wide smile, who was waving a big papal flag.
Everyone loved her: people kept coming over to ask if they could
take her picture, for which she happily stood, and the policemen
lining the barricades also stepped forward every now and then to
ask if she was OK. Sister Veronica, who has worked with young
people for many years, had been on the bridge for five hours and
was determined not to miss the Pope as he went by on his way to
Behind us, Big Ben struck five. Seven minutes later, the
Popemobile swung on to the far end of Lambeth Bridge looking
exactly as someone described it on Twitter a few days ago: "a
bulletproof ice-cream van". It was surrounded by fridge-shaped men
in well-cut dark suits who furiously eyeballed faces in the crowd
as they walked the Popemobile along.
Above them, the Pope was imprisoned inside a greeny-blue
bubble, sitting on a white plastic throne and waving in an old-man
kind of way to the crowds on either side. So thick is the
Popemobile's armoured glass that he looked more like a hologram
than the real thing, but one glance at the Vatican's grim security
detail told you this was the one and only.
Sister Veronica hopped up on to a granite ledge behind me to get
a better view, and as the Popemobile drew level with me on the
crown of the bridge, I gained eye contact for the splittest of
seconds with Joseph Ratzinger as his pale-blue eyes passed over me.
I hope he did the same for Sister Veronica, who was much more
deserving of his attention.
The streets were stiff with crowds trying to slipstream behind
the holy vehicle, but I found a back way, grabbed a coffee as I
walked, and came out of Great Smith Street, right in front of the
west door of Westminster Abbey.
Coming towards me through the crowd was a highly pumped-up black
preacher of the ranting school, blasting a way through the tightly
packed people by the sheer force of his shouted sermon. He was
wearing a glossy barbecue apron printed with a Bible text. I tried
to talk to him, but he ignored me and launched tunelessly into the
Evangelical chorus "I love my Jesus, my Jesus loves me."
The Popemobile pulled up outside the Abbey, and a forest of arms
sprouted from the crowd, each hand holding a camera, wildly pointed
and clicked in search of a Pope shot, however blurred. Once he was
inside the Abbey, and evening prayer had started, I looked around
at the banners jostling for attention.
There was a huge sign reading "Welcome Holy Father", and
another with the less snappy, but still papal-friendly, "On this
rock I will build my Church".
More unpredictable was "We [heart] you Papa more than beans on
toast" held aloft by Niamh, an RC youth worker from North London.
She was also wearing yellow-and-white papal wellington boots she
had specially made, which I'm sure the Pope might like to swap for
his red slippers.
Right next to "Welcome Holy Father" was a black and white banner
that sternly demanded, "No Popery". Surrounding it was an armada of
smaller banners made by old-school Protestants, who were there in
force. A couple of burly men from their team, sporting "Exalt
Christ not the Pope" T-shirts, told me they were from Zion Baptist
in Glasgow, a Calvinistic church that had picketed Marilyn Manson
in the past, and had followed the Pope down to London for this
There were times in the next hour when I thought fighting might
break out as Catholic and Protestant banners jockeyed for position
in front of the TV cameras.
I talked to a Roman Catholic woman carrying a huge picture of
Benedict XVI and she was angry and upset. Her lovely day out with
Papa Benny was being spoiled. "There are stupid people here
shouting out that the Pope is a paedophile," she told me.
The streets of London have never sounded more theological. I
passed one man explaining the teaching of St Irenaeus of Lyons to a
small group of listeners. And, further along, while rough-looking
men hawked Pope badges to passers-by ("Only a quid, mate"), a tall
Catholic was in passionate conversation with a short Protestant
about Matthew 16, each man jabbing a finger at the other.
And all the while, as dusk fell, the Abbey stood huge, silent,
and pregnant with the people, priests, bishops, archbishops,
cardinals, the Pope, and the hard men of Vatican security inside. I
was following the service on Twitter and was able to read the
Pope's address. With typical Ratzinger pugnacity he asserted his
primacy as the successor of St Peter and reminded his listeners
that the ancient building once had close links to Rome.
We waited. It grew dark. The banners manoeuvred. The arguments
raged. Grown men in plastic aprons shouted themselves hoarse for
Then the west doors swung open and the Abbey bells rang out,
like the most joyous wedding, and the crowd went up in a rapture.
In fact, it felt so like a wedding that I half expected to see that
odd couple, Rowan Williams and Joe Ratzinger, walk out hand in hand
surrounded by clergy bridesmaids in lacy frocks . . . but that's
In short order, the Pope entered a dark car and his motorcade
swept from the Abbey. I couldn't help noticing that the last
vehicle was an ambulance. It was a Roman triumph, with mortality
whispering in the ear.
AFTER all the predictions of poor attendance, protests, lack of
interest, and the like, the reality turned out to be very
different. The visit of Pope Benedict to Birmingham was judged to
be a success, leaving doubters mollified, critics neutered, and the
faithful thoroughly invigorated.
The Pope was greeted warmly by 56,000 pilgrims at Cofton Park,
where he celebrated mass and proclaimed the beatification of
Cardinal John Henry Newman. Many in the crowd had undertaken what
amounted to an all-night vigil, travelling long distances and
braving the chilly autumn winds and rain.
They were motivated by an ardour to show the positive face of
Roman Catholic Britain, against a recent background of scandals and
Typical of their number was 62-year-old Louisa Snuggs, a native
of Goa, India, now living in Coventry, who, despite being a
diabetic and breaking her arm mid-week, nevertheless insisted on
being present. "Our Holy Father has endured so much scorn from
atheists, the very least I can do is to show solidarity with him by
my prayers and presence."
Similar sentiments were voiced by another adoptive Coventrian,
Oliver Don, president of the Midlands Sri Lankan Association, who
told BBC Radio: "It is my Christian duty to support the Pope,
especially at this time of crisis."
Talk of adversity on the day brought a sharp retort from James
Short of Stafford. "I think of the brave Catholic martyrs of
England and Wales, who risked their lives to preserve the very
faith that brings Pope Benedict here. It is primarily to honour
their memory that I am here in support of the Holy Father and to
Weather conditions improved with the Pope's arrival at 9.30 a.m.
The reception he was given was one of restrained but heartfelt
appreciation. It was, perhaps, a contrast to the rapturous
adulation given to Pope John Paul on his 1982 visit: there were no
big displays of emotional outpouring, and fewer trips in the
Popemobile. But the subdued applause was gratefully acknowledged by
a smiling Pontiff.
As for the threatened protesters, barely 50 could be counted
some way from the park, their anger dampened by the weather.
Mass and the beatification proved to be a profound spiritual
experience for those present. Benedict was keen to focus on Newman,
whose theology he has devoted a lifetime to pursuing. In his own
quiet fashion, the Pope expressed his honour at being able to
beatify one whose life and works had so enthralled him.
In his homily, Benedict expressed the wish that Newman be "a
role model for all Christians everywhere", and urged the faithful
to "emulate Newman's exemplary fidelity and perseverance during
difficult times". The Pope further urged Catholics to draw a lesson
from Newman by harnessing education as a means of "enlightening the
mind, while countering the challenges of secular materialism that
have so corrupted Western society".
Significantly, Pope Benedict appeared to be very conscious of
the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He spoke of his time
living under the Nazis, and praised the courage and steadfastness
of RAF fighter pilots. He paid special tribute to the people of
Coventry who had endured the blitzes of 1940 and 1941.
As the papal cavalcade left after the two-hour service, the loud
cheering echoing around Cofton Park was for a pope who had won the
respect of people for his thoughtful words and considered
judgement. Notwithstanding the problems within the Roman Catholic
Church, Pope Benedict had managed to reply on his own terms, faced
down hostile voices, maintained dignity, and, throughout it all,
kept the primary focus on Newman's beatification and legacy.
Benedict's style is his own; he did not seek to copy his
gregarious predecessor. He was consistent and dignified, and those
traits appeared to be appreciated by a British public that seemed
to thaw to the Pope during the visit.
Moreover, through his speeches in London and Scotland, Benedict
set out his challenge to secularism, something that British
political society must accommodate. He also engaged positively with
the Church of England, and made various courteous overtures to
mainstream British society.
Throughout his short time here, Pope Benedict pushed for the
retention of Christianity at the heart of society. Whether those
attempts prove successful, time will tell.