Pope Benedict XVI blesses UK population ahead of visit

image captionPope Benedict's four-day tour will include an open-air service in Glasgow

Pope Benedict XVI has blessed the people of the UK ahead of his visit to Scotland and England next week.

The Pope gave thanks for the work that has been carried out to make his visit a success and said he was "very much looking forward" to his four-day trip.

Speaking from Rome, he sent his "heartfelt greetings" to Britain.

Secular groups have been angered by the visit. Earlier, the Protest the Pope campaign promised not to disrupt the visit with their demonstrations.

The Pope is to arrive on 16 September, the first papal visit since 1982.

The Pope said: "I am aware that a vast amount of work has gone into the preparations for the visit... and I want to say how much I appreciate the efforts that have been made to ensure that the various events planned will be truly joyful celebrations."

The Pope acknowledged that the preparations were not just the work of the Church and also thanked "the government, the local authorities in Scotland, London and Birmingham, the communications media and the security services".

"Above all I thank the countless people who have been praying for the success of the visit and for a great outpouring of God's grace upon the Church and the people of your nation."

The Pope is due to begin his visit in Edinburgh where he will be received by the Queen before celebrating Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow.

Closer to sainthood

He will spend two days in London, where he is due to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, give an address at Westminster Hall and hold a prayer vigil in Hyde Park.

On Sunday 19 September, the Pope will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman at Cofton Park, Birmingham.

The blessing will bring the revered 19th Century clergyman one step closer to sainthood.

But the visit has also triggered controversy.

Earlier, leaders of the Protest the Pope campaign spoke to the Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, at Scotland Yard amid concerns the pontiff's visit could be disrupted.

In a statement after the meeting, the Most Rev Smith said he had been given a "very clear assurance" the campaigners have "no intention" of disrupting any of the events.

"We had an open and frank discussion on the issues of child abuse, homosexuality and the status of Pope Benedict's visit as a state visit," he said.

Many people are also criticising the fact that the visit will be substantially funded by the taxpayer.

Some 77% of Britons think taxpayers should not help pay for the visit, a survey has suggested.

The online poll of 2,005 adults issued by think tank Theos also found 79% had "no personal interest" in his visit.

The cost to UK taxpayers, previously estimated at £8m, could rise to between £10m and £12m.

The Catholic Church is also expected to make a contribution of between £9m and £10m towards the costs, which does not include an expected multi-million pound bill for policing the visit.

It will be the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II's 1982 trip.

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