Queen pays tribute to Vatican role in NI peace process

Pope Benedict XVI with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh Pope Benedict XVI with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Holyrood House

The Queen has paid tribute to the Vatican in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

She made the comments as she welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Edinburgh on the first day of his four-day state visit to the UK.

The Queen said the UK deeply appreciated "the involvement of the Holy See in the dramatic improvement in the situation in Northern Ireland".

The Pope said he wanted to hold out the hand of friendship to all the peoples of the United Kingdom.

The pontiff met the Queen and other dignitaries including the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, at Holyrood House.

National anthems were sung outside, before an exchange of gifts in the palace's state rooms.

Large crowds waving Scottish flags greeted the Pope as he was driven through the centre of Edinburgh to the traditional accompaniment of pipe bands.

He then presided over an open-air Mass later in Glasgow.

The visit is the first to the UK by a Pontiff since John Paul II in 1982.

'Controversial'

Some ticketed events during the four-day trip have not sold out and protests are planned over Vatican policies on birth control, gay rights and abortion.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said the visit was eagerly anticipated.

"The Catholic tradition in this country is one of actually very profound loyalty to the person of the Holy Father," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said it will be "a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics, but for many people of faith right across Britain".

But the Pope's visit is controversial among campaigners who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children.

Start Quote

We are going to have a silent vigil to remember the men and women in those institutions who didn't make it, who died young and who died without ever reconciling with the Church”

End Quote Sally Mulready Irish Women Survivors Support

They have accused Church authorities of a culture of secrecy and of not taking strong enough steps against abusive priests.

'Protests'

Presbyterians, secularists, and other groups in Edinburgh had planned to protest against Vatican policies on birth control, gay rights and abortion, although police did not report any large demonstrations.

BBC correspondents said small groups turned out from the organisation Protest the Pope and from the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.

A 60-strong delegation from the Free Presbyterian Church, including its founder Ian Paisley, now Lord Bannside, held a "peaceful protest" in Edinburgh to show their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

In Camden, a traditionally Irish area in London, members of the Irish Women Survivors Support Network in the UK, were holding a silent, candlelit vigil in memory of those who suffered and died in Irish institutions run by religious orders.

"As women, what we have decided to do is to mark the Pope's arrival in our own way," said the group's chair, Sally Mulready.

"That won't be to go up to Westminster.

"We are going to have a silent vigil to remember the men and women in those institutions who didn't make it, who died young and who died without ever reconciling with the Church, with the religious orders in particular who inflicted so much barbarity and cruelty and abuse on them."

'Pop Idol'

On Thursday evening, the Pope is holding an open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow - billed as the largest organised event during the visit.

Several hundred people from Northern Ireland were expected to attend the Mass.

It was preceded by performances from an 800-strong choir, Britain's Got Talent star Susan Boyle, and Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus.

The Catholic Church in Scotland had hoped to attract up to 100,000 to the event, but later reduced the capacity to 65,000 after a slow take-up of tickets.

Preparations in Glasgow for the Papal visit Ticket allocations were reduced for the Pope's open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow

Ticket allocations were reduced for the Bellahouston Park Mass.

A similar mass given by Pope John Paul II 28 years ago attracted some 300,000 followers.

'Cost'

The Pope will fly to London on Thursday night and spend the next two days meeting religious and political leaders, Catholic groups and holding prayers and mass.

On Friday, the Popemobile will parade from Lambeth Bridge to Millbank, and on Saturday, along Horse Guards Road, The Mall and on to Hyde Park.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has estimated the cost of policing the trip at £1.5m.

Lord Patten, the prime minister's representative for the visit, has said the total cost of the Pope's stay to the taxpayer will be between £10m and £12m.

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