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The historic visit that almost never happened...

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Simone Byrne Simone Byrne | 11:22 UK time, Friday, 10 September 2010

Next Thursday the head of the Roman Catholic Church visits Scotland. Our News teams will be covering the visit throughout the day, as well as providing live coverage of the Mass in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow on Thursday night.

News Correspondant, Elizabeth Quigley presents a special feature, 1130 on Wednesday 15th of September, From John Paul to Benedict - A Tale of Two Popes, which marks only the second visit by a Pope to the UK in 500 years. Below she recollects Pope John Paul II's visit of 1982.

Pope's Shoes © Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

I was just 10 years old in 1982 when Pope John Paul the second made history by visiting Scotland. There was great excitement at the time but what I didn't know then and what I've discovered while making a television and radio documentary is how close it came to never happening.


Just a year earlier there had been an attempt on the Pontiff's life. A gunman hiding among the crowds in St Peter's Square at the Vatican shot the Pope four times. Incredibly he survived the assassination attempt. Security obviously had to be tightened up and there must have been question marks over the Pope's continued globe-trotting. The idea of travelling to Britain must have seemed an unlikely.

But a visit still seemed to be on the cards although there were doubts over how welcome Pope John Paul II would be made in Anglican England and Protestant Scotland. North of the border the Orange order in particular was far from welcoming. The whole idea of the head of the Church of Rome visiting a Protestant country - the land of John Knox and the Reformation - was deeply offensive. It had never happened before - and the Orange order definitely thought it should not be happening now.

But protests at home seemed insignificant when compared to what was happening thousands of miles away in the South Atlantic: a far greater threat to the visit was looming on the horizon.

Argentina invaded the Falkland islands in 1981, Margaret Thatcher sent in British troops and the possibility of Papal visit was fast disappearing.

A historic visit from the head of the Catholic Church to a country at war with a Catholic nation seemed unthinkable. How could it happen? The odds were overwhelmingly stacked against it. Frantic and urgent diplomacy was required to try to salvage the situation and make sure this unprecedented and groundbreaking visit could go ahead - however hopeless it seemed. And looking back at papers and letters kept in the Scottish Catholic Archive, it certainly seemed hopeless.

The then Archbishop of Glasgow, Cardinal Thomas Winning, travelled to Rome in the hope of convincing the Pope to come to Britain and along with the then Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Warlock, attempted to save the visit. The Argentinian bishops were then summoned to the Vatican and the emphasis was placed on the fact that this would be a pastoral visit to Britain - and shortly afterwards there will be a Papal visit to Argentina. Rome would not be taking sides in this conflict: the Pope would be visiting the faithful in both countries.

So incredibly, some might even say almost miraculously, a visit with almost no chance of going ahead - with pitfalls and obstacles at every turn - does finally get the green light. History is about to be made...

Elizabeth Quigley presents From John Paul to Benedict - A Tale of Two Popes Wednesday at 1130 with coverage of the Mass at Bellahouston Park live on MW Thursday at 1715. Keep across coverage of the Papal visit to Scotland on BBC News Scotland.

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