By Edward Pentin
EDINBURGH, Scotland, SEPT. 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI landed at Edinburgh airport shortly before half past ten this morning amid a blustery and chill wind.
But the sun was also shining brightly and the Holy Father looked rested, at peace and happy as he came off the papal plane.
He was greeted by the Duke of Edinburgh, an unprecedented gesture signifying how much the Crown values this, the first state by a Pope. Also there to meet him were the primates of Scotland, England and Wales, Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien and Archbishop Vincent Nichols, and the government's coordinator of the visit, Lord Patten of Barnes.
Well-wishers lined the route of the Pope's motorcade as he was driven to Holyroodhouse Palace, the official Scottish Royal residence where the queen greeted him in the front courtyard.
Also present to meet the Holy Father were the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg, the first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, and the head of the Church of Scotland.
The grandeur of the occasion was not lost on the Pope. As the Scots Guards band played national anthem of Great Britain, he removed his zucchetto as a mark of respect. He then walked -- still smiling -- into the Palace with the queen where the two leaders and Prince Phillip had a private audience lasting around 20 minutes.
But it was the formal greetings that followed which have set the mood for this truly historic visit, and whose themes will doubtless be repeated over the next three days. The Holy Father spoke movingly of Britain's contribution to the world, stressing that the good the nation has achieved owes itself to the country's "deep Christian roots." He criticized "aggressive secularism" warning that "the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a reductive vision of the person and his destiny."
He also directed a few words at the country's media that has at times been particularly hostile to this visit, and to the Pope personally. "The British media have a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights," he said.
In her speech, the Queen, who is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, noted that the Pope's presence "reminds us of our common Christian heritage" and the Catholic Church's contribution to good in the world. She also stressed the importance of dialogue and that Britain and the Pope "stand united" in the conviction that "religions can never become vehicles of hatred."
A brief reception, attended by 400 guests including prelates, interreligious leaders, and politicians was held in a marquee before the Holy Father left in the popemobile to have lunch with Scotland's bishops. The Police estimate that 100,000 people lined the streets of Edinburgh to wave him on. Crowds cheered heartily, many of whom were schoolchildren. The Holy Father was accompanied in the popemobile by Cardinal O'Brien and Msgr. Georg Gaenswein, his secretary, each wearing a special St. Ninian tartan scarf. Today is the feast day of the saint, the country's first missionary.
Threats of protests came to nothing in Scotland. Apart from a small number of people placing posters on Princes Street about clerical sex abuse along the popemobile's route, there were no other incidents. Instead a large and very lively crowd gathered at Bellahouston Park, a lush green expanse of land on the outskirts of Glasgow, to attend an open-air Mass in the evening. Estimates are that between 70,000 to 100,000 attended, and the park appeared to be at capacity. A carnival atmosphere was the scene as the Pope arrived as very excited pilgrims waved Vatican flags.
"It's wonderful and we as Scots feel very privileged that the Pope has come here," said pilgrim Alice Boyle who was also at the same venue when John Paul II visited in 1982. "The atmosphere is as good as it was then." Tom Emans, another pilgrim who was also there nearly 30 years ago, noticed there were more Vatican flags this time. "I hope this visit will help people to think about religion and about others, that it will be a witness to true Christian values," he said.
Detractors at a minimum
Asked about the concerns over protests, he said they were "insignificant." "They're given too much airtime and no one here pays attention to them," he said, although he added that his non-Catholic friends were indifferent to the visit and some quite hostile to it.
In his homily, the Holy Father said that the evangelization of culture "is all the more important" at a time "when a "dictatorship of relativism" threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man's nature, his destiny and his ultimate good."
He added: "There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister."
"For this reason," added, "I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith's wisdom and vision in the public forum."
He also had words for the young. "There are many temptations placed before you every day - drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol - which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive," he said, adding: "There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you."
After Mass, the Pope was driven in a motorcade to Glasgow airport and a flight to London after a very full schedule. Another historic day awaits him tomorrow, one in which he'll deliver a speech in the heart of Westminster, the place where St. Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians, was tried and condemned for holding to Christian principles in the face of state opposition.
For this reason, and the overall Catholic and state symbolism of the venue, it's being billed as one of the most important addresses of his pontificate.