Pope confirms he will visit Britain
Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed reports that he will visit Britain.
The Pontiff told the Catholic bishops of England and Wales in an address marking the end of their pilgrimage to Rome that he would be making his first apostolic visit to Britain.
No dates or schedule were given but his remarks come after it was widely reported last year that he will visit Britain this September.
In a speech to the bishops, the Pope spoke of the "living faith and devotion" among Catholics in England and Wales, highlighting the recent visit of the relics of St Therese and the forthcoming beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. "On the occasion of my forthcoming apostolic visit to Great Britain, I shall be able to witness that faith for myself and, as successor of Peter, to strengthen and confirm it," he told the bishops.
"During the months of preparation that lie ahead, be sure to encourage the Catholics of England and Wales in their devotion, and assure them that the Pope constantly remembers them in his prayers and holds them in his heart."
In the speech, published on the Vatican Radio website, Pope Benedict offered his "warmest good wishes and prayers" for the bishops and all the faithful entrusted to their care. He said that, even amid the pressures of a secular age, there were "many signs" of "living faith" and devotion among Catholics in both countries.
In an apparent reference to the Church's stance in areas such as gay adoption, the Pope urged the bishops to ensure that the Church's moral teaching should always be presented in its "entirety" and "convincingly defended".
He said: "Your country is well-known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet, as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed."
He added: "Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others - on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society.
"In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them. When so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel's right to be heard."