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The Pope's Visit 2010

Aaqil Ahmed

Head of BBC Religion & Ethics

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On the morning of 28 May 1982, an Alitalia 727 aircraft touched down at London Gatwick airport. Minutes later Pope John Paul II knelt down and kissed the tarmac.

What followed was an historic and demanding six-day tour of the UK that gripped the nation, and dominated the news both in the UK and around the globe.

I was a football-mad boy just about to turn thirteen and residing in Bolton when I watched his arrival in 1982. I - like others of around my age - remember being enthralled by Blue Peter and Newsround features about the visit - and who can forget marveling at the all-important Pope mobile.

I had little concept of what the Pope's visit to our shores really meant to the millions of Catholics in the UK. I just knew that this man was causing a bit of a stir when he turned up in his very different looking car. Like all things when you are a child, the fascination passed quickly, but my memory of his visit remains, and what really sticks in my mind especially is the sheer size of the crowds who came to see him in Heaton Park in Manchester.

Today - as a forty-one year-old man - I am now preparing for the first visit of a Pontiff for 28 years (and the first ever State visit) and I am in a very different place. I am obviously a lot older, I hope wiser, a father myself, and I am very proud to now be the BBC's Head of Religion and Ethics and the Commissioning Editor for Religion TV. And this papal visit by the current pope - Benedict XVI - rather than being a passing fascination, is on my mind every minute of every day, morning, noon and night. Why? Because I, along with many of my colleagues across BBC TV, radio and online, are getting ready to cover this historic State occasion with a myriad of eclectic programming.

The Pope's visit from 16 -19 September is being organised and paid for by the Catholic Church (in England and in Scotland) and by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It has polarised public opinion like no other before and you only have to open a paper to see that it has got the nation talking. What will happen when he gets here and, more importantly, what he may say, is sure to dominate the news agenda. His arrival on the 16 September will also mark - and be the culmination of - many months of planning and organisation (not to mention sleepless nights) for our BBC teams working on all the aspects of covering the Pope's Visit 2010.

From the production crews working on all the live events, to the news teams across the BBC, down to the documentary producers finalising programmes giving an important insight into some of the wider issues that surround the papacy of Joseph Ratzinger, this has been an extremely busy, fraught but entirely fascinating few months.

The UK has changed a lot in those 28 years since the last time we greeted a Pontiff, and the Britain that awaits Pope Benedict XVI as he ascends to the tarmac is a very different place than the Britain that awaited Pope John Paul II. It is more multicultural, secular and, thanks to the recent controversies that have rocked the Catholic Church, the current Pope will no doubt be met by some very vocal groups who are against him being here altogether. However, for the majority of the many millions of Catholics in the UK, the Pope's arrival will be much looked forward to and also celebrated.

One thing is for sure, this is a State event, that will be both newsworthy and of national interest and significance, and, as the nation's broadcaster, it is appropriate that we cover it in the best way we can - with the scale, depth and overall balance of programming across all our platforms - TV, radio and online - that only the BBC can deliver.

I hope you manage to watch some of the coverage, and you find it as fascinating as I undoubtedly will.

You can find details of all the programmes to coincide with the Pope's Visit 2010 by following the below link.

Aaqil Ahmed is Commissioning Editor for Television. Head of Religion and Ethics

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