Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Shepherd One' tends to Scottish flock as historic state visit begins

Neil Tweedie in Scotland

THERE were those who would have dampened the day: Ian Paisley and his fire-breathing contingent of Ulster protestant ministers, secularist protesters, those appalled at the abuse of children by priests. And there was Scotland's taciturn weather, too -- always capable of administering a sudden, dispiriting drenching.

But the 65,000 Catholics gathered in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park yesterday to celebrate Mass were having none of that. As Pope Benedict XVI arrived for the first great set-piece event of his four-day visit to Britain, the hymn 'All People That On Earth Do Dwell' boomed out triumphantly. This was their day; for most a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, miraculously, the sun shone.

On his way to the altar, the Pontiff paused to bless nine-year-old Anton McManus, who had written to him 10 days before asking him to "keep his cancer away". A malignant tumour was discovered on Anton's spine when he was four years old, but has been kept in check by chemotherapy, radiotherapy and two operations.

There was 18-month-old Alexander Frame, too. He suffers from a genetic disorder that may take his life before the age of 10. His father Allan, a car salesman from Glasgow, said he and his family were "praying for a miracle".

"A hundred thousand welcomes," was the message delivered in Gaelic by the Most Reverend Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow.

The historic first state papal visit to the UK had begun with the Pope arriving at Edinburgh's airport on a chartered Alitalia airliner, call-sign Shepherd One, to be greeted by the Duke of Edinburgh.

With Catholics and non-Catholics lining the streets, he was driven in a 12-vehicle convoy to meet the queen, religious leaders and politicians at the Palace of Holyrood.

Sister Frances had set off early with fellow members of a Carmelite convent in Fife to witness the Pontiff's arrival. "The visit will be a blessing, whether people know it or not," she said. "It will improve relations between Church and state, and between other religions."

Leaders of other faiths, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, were waiting inside, together with Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, standing in for David Cameron, absent because of a European summit.

A guard of honour was provided by the Royal Company of Archers, the monarch's ceremonial bodyguard in Scotland.

Following a formal greeting, the queen and Pope exchanged gifts. She presented him with a facsimile of 85 drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger. He gave her a copy of the Lorsch Gospels, dating from 778 to 820. "Thank you very much. It's lovely," said the queen.

"The car you arrived in was very small, a very tight squeeze, but you've got your own Popemobile?"

"Yes," replied the leader of a billion Roman Catholics.

"Do you go to Glasgow in it?" asked Prince Philip, who later asked the leader of Scotland's Conservatives if she was wearing tartan knickers.

In his address, the Pope, drafted as a boy into the Hitler Youth, praised Britain's stand against Nazi "atheist" tyranny; a description immediately condemned by British atheists.

Amelia Brown (11) was one of the children chosen to present a posy. "He shook our hands. They were very cold. He was very nice," was her no-nonsense verdict.

Out on Princes Street, Edinburgh's main thoroughfare, celebrations for St Ninian's Day were under way. Children from schools across Scotland took part in a fundraising parade, together with adults dressed as St Columba, Mary Queen of Scots and that scourge of Catholicism, John Knox.

A short distance away, in the Magdalen chapel, where the Scottish Reformation was born 450 years ago, Mr Paisley was protesting against the visit of a man he has described as the antichrist.

"I don't want his (the Pope's) blessing, and I will be keeping as far away as I can.

Purgatory

"I've just seen the statement that has been issued by the Roman Catholic Church about this visit and we are told that if we go to this Mass here today then we will have a shortened purgatory and our sins will be forgiven -- £25 (€29) and you'll get out of purgatory quicker."

The Pope never saw Mr Paisley and his battalions -- police refused to allow him to lead a demonstration.

As Benedict progressed through the Scottish capital in his white Popemobile, the reception was respectful rather than ecstatic, but there were cheers when his motorcade hove into sight. Some observers thought claims of 125,000 onlookers an exaggeration -- certainly there were no heaving masses.

In a gesture of affection, the Holy Father donned a tartan scarf. The Saltire, the Scottish flag, dominated the route, together with the white and gold banner of the Vatican. The Union flag was less obvious, a change since the visit by John Paul II in 1982.

Some children engaged in Mexican waves. Street vendors did brisk business in Vatican flags and papal visit scarves.

Protesters did their best to register their presence, carrying banners condemning the church for aiding the spread of AIDS. But the demonstrations were fairly muted affairs and there were no arrests.

"Along Princes Street I really felt so proud," said Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's 800,000 Catholics. "You could look to one side and see the backcloth of the castle and the ramparts and so on, and on the other side a sea of faces welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to our country."

Irish Independent

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