The venue for the Catholic ceremony in Scotland was formally announced yesterday after a meeting between Glasgow City Council and the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.
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However, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland said it was offensive that the UK Government was hosting the Pope as a head of state.
Prime Minister David Cameron has drafted in former Tory grandee Lord Patten to oversee Benedict’s UK visit. Lord Patten, a cabinet member in the 1990s and former governor of Hong Kong, is to be the Prime Minister’s personal representative for the visit in September and, as a Catholic and experienced diplomat, it will be his task to get the first ever papal state visit to Britain back on track after a series of difficulties.
The Pope will arrive in Edinburgh on September 16, the feast of St Ninian – the saint who brought Christianity to Scotland – and will meet the Queen at Holyrood House before making his way to Glasgow.
A statement from Scotland’s Catholic bishops said: “The Catholic Church welcomes the confirmation by Glasgow City Council that Bellahouston Park will be available and suitable for the visit of Pope Benedict.
“The park provides a wonderful venue for what will be a tremendous event. It is a place that has a great resonance for Scottish Catholics, many of whom remember the wonderful day in 1982 when Pope John Paul II said Mass there.”
The bishops said they expected more than half of the 185,000 Catholics who attend Sunday services across Scotland to attend Bellahouston, with the 450 parishes north of the Border receiving a pro-rata allocation of places based on their Mass attendance figures.
Thousands more are expected to line the route of the Pope’s motorcade through Edinburgh earlier in the day. A St Ninian’s Day Pageant in Edinburgh is also planned.
Benedict is to beatify England’s most famous convert to Catholicism, Cardinal Newman, who founded the first English Oratory in Birmingham in 1848. There has been speculation the planned beatification ceremony, an open-air Mass before 200,000 pilgrims at Coventry airport, could be replaced by a smaller event, although the Church has insisted the visit to Coventry will go ahead.
A prayer vigil was to take place in London’s Hyde Park, but Royal Parks said no such event has been booked.
The Pope’s UK visit has upset the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, who said: “We deny that he is the head of the Christian church or that he has any civil power which should receive recognition by any state, particularly one which has renounced his pretended jurisdiction.
“We find it offensive that this visit will start in Edinburgh where, 450 years ago, under the brave and Godly leadership of John Knox and our other reformers, the jurisdiction of the Pope was forever abolished.”