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Scotland and its history / Writings · 4 February 2024

Scotland and its History. The Pope.

The state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom  held from 16 to 19 September 2010 and was the first visit by a Pope to Britain after Pope John Paul II made a pastoral, rather than state, visit in 1982. The visit included the beatification of Cardinal Newman as a “pastoral highlight”.

Pope Benedict’s visit included meetings with Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom and Supreme Governor of the Church of England), First Minister of Scotland Alex SalmondArchbishop of Canterbury Rowan WilliamsPrime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, and leaders of the other main political parties.

The Pope’s itinerary included open air Masses in Glasgow and Birmingham, a youth vigil in Hyde Park in London, and Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London, attended by over 200,000 people.

Papal Visit In Westminster 17th September 2010

Invitation and planning

An invitation to visit Britain was extended to Pope Benedict XVI by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in February 2009. The Pope’s visit featured in the debates between party leaders in April 2010, prior to the 2010 United Kingdom general election, where all three party leaders expressed support for the visit, while expressing disagreement with some of the Pope’s views.

Anjoum Noorani of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was originally a key contact between the British Government and the papal visit team. However, he was suspended from overseas postings and given a final warning, to last for five years, after approving the sending of a memo written by Steven Mulvain, a 23-year-old Oxford graduate, mocking the visit. Subsequently, the new Government appointed liberal Catholic Lord Patten to get the visit back on track following a series of setbacks.[5]

Ticketed events

There were three specific ticketed events open to the public during the Pope’s visit. These were a Mass in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, on the afternoon of Thursday 16 September, an evening prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, on Saturday 18 September, and the Mass of Beatification of John Henry Newman in Cofton Park, Longbridge, Birmingham, on Sunday 19 September.

In contrast with the previous Papal visit to Britain, that of Pope John Paul II in 1982, where anyone could attend open-air events, there was tight security for the 2010 Papal visit, with all attendees required to register in advance through their parish and to attend in a group with a ‘Pilgrim Leader’ from that parish, who as leader had the responsibility to vouch for all members of his group. All registered attendees received a ‘Pilgrim Pass’, required for admission to events. Non-Catholics were permitted to attend, by contacting their local parish.

The Mass of Beatification in Cofton Park was originally arranged for Coventry Airport, with a capacity of up to 250,000. The planned event at the airport, which had seen 350,000 attend the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982, was the subject of an Isle of Man commemorative stamp. However the event was switched to the much smaller Cofton Park, Longbridge, a switch that the church denied was to reduce costs, instead stating that Cofton Park had a greater connection to Newman, who had lived in the area and walked around the park.


The visit of the Pope was the first state visit of a Pope to Britain; the visit of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had been a pastoral visit, and as such the British government did not pay the costs of that visit, although expenses were incurred by local governments in areas that he visited.

The final cost to the British taxpayer (excluding policing costs) of the visit was £10 million. The cost to the taxpayer was criticised, with a ComRes poll showing that 76% of people in the UK agreed with the statement that ‘The Pope is a religious figure so the taxpayer should not be contributing to the costs of his visit’. The cost was defended by the Archbishop of Westminster, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, who said that it was right for the government to pay for official State Visits, as well as by Lord Patten, who said that the cost compared favourably with the £20 million spent on the 2009 G-20 London Summit. The visit was predicted to cost Edinburgh City council £400,000.

The financial benefits as well as costs of the Papal visit were reported, with the councillor coordinating the visit to Birmingham, which incurred £80,000 in direct costs, estimated before the event a £12.5 million boost to the city, while Scott Taylor of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau said that there was a direct £4.25m benefit to Glasgow, with further valuable publicity from the resultant media coverage of the city.

It was announced in July that attendees at events would be charged for a compulsory ‘Pilgrim Pack’, including commemorative items, in order to fund transport costs. The costs were £5 for the Hyde Park vigil (which did not include transport), £25 to attend the Cofton Park event and £20 to attend Bellahouston Park Mass. The £20 charge for Bellahouston Park was levied on the parish, which had discretion as to whether it recouped the cost directly from attendees. The charges were said to be the first ever levied for attending Papal events, and came amid reports that the church was £2.6 million short of its donation target.

The cost to the Catholic Church was £10 million, against the £7 million published on the Papal Visit website. The bulk of the £7m, £5.2m was for staging the three large-scale public events, a further £0.6m for three smaller pastoral events, with the remaining £1.2m covering evangelism, planning and communication. £1.1 million was raised through a Pentecost Sunday special collection in churches and £4m from wealthy individual donors. As of November 2010 the church had a £3.5m shortfall, due to be repaid to the Government by April 2011.


16 September

Pope Benedict XVI began his official visit in Scotland at Edinburgh Airport on 16 September, where he was greeted by Prince Philip and the Archbishops of Westminster and St Andrews and Edinburgh. He then met the Queen for the first time at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, with the ceremonial Guard of honour formed by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers and the High Constables of Holyroodhouse.

In his speech at Holyrood Palace, the Pope associated atheist extremism with Nazism, causing controversy. The Pope said:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”.

A parade for Saint Ninian‘s day was held at 11am, the route beginning on Regent Road, Edinburgh, and proceeding along Princes Street. Attendance was open to all, with a parade of school children and figures from Scotland’s Christian history, in honour of St Ninian of Galloway, who brought Christianity to Scotland from Rome in the fifth century. After the parade, which was attended by around 125,000 people, the Pope proceeded by Popemobile to have lunch with Cardinal O’Brien at his home before travelling by car to Glasgow.

The Pope was greeted by the Archbishop of Glasgow for the ticketed Mass of the Feast of St Ninian in Bellahouston ParkSusan Boyle and Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus performed before the start of the Mass. Attendance was around 65,000 people. The Pope flew from Glasgow Airport to London Heathrow airport that evening.

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