The visit of Pope Benedict to the UK has gone very well indeed so far.
There was immense tension before the visit, because of the quite horrible and very vocal opposition to Pope Benedict, to the Catholic Church and to the visit. You can read many newspaper commentaries on the web concerning the visit — about two thirds are at least partially critical — but try not to look at the comments, because some of them are quite unbelievably vile. This, plus the wide publicity given to aggressive anti-Catholic figures such as Peter Tatchell, had created a tension among us that made some of us (including me) even wish that the Pope would cancel the visit.
When he landed at Edinburgh, you could see that the Holy Father had had a bad night, perhaps worrying about the visit. He looked pale and very tired, though he bore himself with his customary dignity and was clearly pleased to have a warm reception from the Queen and the extraordinary courtesy of a welcome at the airport from the Duke of Edinburgh. Both the Queen and the Pope spoke very well at Holyrood House, the Holy Father prudently giving particular praise to Scotland and its history. Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland (a Scottish Nationalist) grinned like the Cheshire Cat throughout the whole reception, clearly thrilled with the honour the Holy Father paid to Scotland both by his remarks and by the fact that it was visited before England, (even if this was only because the Queen, the host, was in Scotland herself at the time). He was heard to remark later that if it were not for the Catholic Church, there would have been no Scotland.
It was from this point that things got very much better. In the morning, the media had gleefully been showing empty streets and empty seats both along the routes the Holy Father would travel and in Bellahouston Park where he would celebrate Mass later that day. However, things began to change rapidly. The Scottish Hierarchy had organized things very well. It was the feast of St Ninian, one of the primary evangelizers of the Southern Picts in, perhaps, the seventh century. There was a massive parade in his honour along the main drag of Edinburgh, Princes Street, with hundreds of schoolchildren, pipe bands and a carnival atmosphere.
Cardinal O'Brien had showed his characteristic canniness and had commissioned a special tartan to be woven to commemorate the visit (far and away the most tasteful of the various souveniers on sale!). He had presented all the Members of the Scottish Parliament with a tie or a scarf to wear in this tartan (does he have shares in the company?). Alex Salmond was even wearing his scarf when he was presented to the Pope. As the Holy Father sat down in the popemobile, the Cardinal slung a tartan scarf around the papal neck, and brandished his own scarf. The Pope smiled tolerantly and continued to wear the scarf as the procession wound its way up into Edinburgh along empty roads. Then suddenly the popemobile came out into the main streets, where a crowd of over 125,000 cheering people waited for him…
Suddenly, we knew it was going to be all right.
You should be able to watch the morning's events on the BBC by clicking here (available only for a few days, though).
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