The Vatican has published the much-anticipated official schedule for Pope Benedict’s trip to the United Kingdom in September 2010.
The pontiff, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and head of the Vatican City state, arrives on Thursday 16 September in Scotland.
He begins with an official visit to Queen Elizabeth II at her palace in Edinburgh. That afternoon he travels to Glasgow, where he will celebrate Mass at Bellahouston Park. On Thursday evening the Pope will continue on to London, spending the night there.
On Friday 17 September, the Pope’s day will begin with a meeting for Catholic educators at St Mary’s University College. Later in the morning he will participate in an interfaith assembly. In the afternoon he will visit theAnglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and then lead an ecumenical assembly at Westminster Abbey.
On Saturday the Pope meets with the Prime Minister, David Cameron and with the opposition leader, Harriet Harman. Then he will preside at Mass in the cathedral at Westminster. That afternoon he will visit a nursing home. In the evening he will lead a prayer vigil in Hyde Park, leading up to Sunday’s beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Pope Benedict will preside at the beatification ceremonies on Sunday 19 September, at Cofton Park in Birmingham. Following that ceremony he will visit the Oratory that Cardinal Newman made famous. His last official activity will be a meeting with the Catholic bishops of England, Wales, and Scotland. The pontiff will return to Rome on Sunday night.
Commenting on the schedule for the papal visit, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that the highlight from a Catholic perspective will be the beatification of Cardinal Newman.
Cardinal Newman is a figure of enormous importance to today’s culture, Lombardi claimed, because he is “the perfect figure to present the dignity of Christian witness as capable of addressing the problems and the biggest questions of modern man, to modern society.”
In addition, the Vatican spokesperson called attention to the Pope’s meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, saying: "We also know that this is a delicate moment for Anglicanism, because of internal debates. It is also a delicate time in relations with the Catholic Church, because these debates also reflect on the relationship between Anglicans and Catholics."
Preparations for the Pope's visit have been dogged by criticism of its cost to the public purse, estimated at up to £20 million, sluggish ticket sales, controversies over sexual abuse, and a funding gap for the pastoral dimension of the visit.
Protesters for women's and gay rights are also intending to make their voices heard as the visit proceeds.