Thursday, September 16, 2010

Papal visit: Pope to begin historic UK trip

Downing Street says the visit will be "very special" for people of all faiths

The first state visit by a Pope to the UK gets under way later when Benedict XVI flies into Edinburgh. He will meet the Queen at Holyrood House and parade through the city before an open-air Mass in Glasgow. Tens of thousands of people are expected to line the streets to catch a glimpse of the Roman Catholic leader. Some ticketed events during the four-day trip have not sold out and protests are planned over Vatican policies on birth control, gay rights and abortion. The visit is the first to the UK by a Pontiff since John Paul II in 1982. Vatican officials say Pope Benedict will highlight the importance of the role of faith for everyone in contemporary Britain, not just Catholics and Anglicans. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said the visit was eagerly anticipated. "The Catholic tradition in this country is one of actually very profound loyalty to the person of the Holy Father," he said. Prime Minister David Cameron has said it will be "a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics, but for many people of faith right across Britain". 

But the Pope's visit is controversial among campaigners who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children. They have accused Church authorities of a culture of secrecy and of not taking strong enough steps against abusive priests. The head of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission said he was confident a meeting between the Pope and victims would go ahead during the trip. Bill Kilgallon said he expected a group of less than 10 to meet the Pontiff without anyone else present, and with no restrictions on what was said before or after. In Edinburgh, Presbyterians, secularists, and other groups are planning to protest, but police have said they do not expect large-scale demonstrations. On Wednesday, more than 50 public figures added their names to a letter in a newspaper saying the Pope should not be given the "honour" of a UK state visit. The signatories to the letter in the Guardian include Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman and Stephen Fry. Meanwhile, one of the Pope's senior advisers - Cardinal Walter Kasper - has pulled out of the visit after reports in a German magazine that he said arriving at Heathrow airport was like landing in a "Third World country". He went on to say the UK was marked by "a new and aggressive atheism".


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