Britain's most powerful Presbyterian courts UK papal visit

Britain's most powerful Presbyterian courts UK papal visit

By staff writers
19 Feb 2009

In an audience at the Vatican today, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has invited Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, to Britain and has promised him a "warm welcome".

The Presbyterian 'Son of the Manse' (a reference to the fact that his father was a Church of Scotland minister) enjoyed a meeting with the pontiff that lasted a little under 40 minutes including pleasantries. This was much longer than scheduled.

Mr Brown made global poverty a particular priority for the conversation, since this is a topic on which the two men see very much eye to eye.

In an unprecedented gesture, L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, this morning carried a two column front page article on the financial crisis by Mr Brown. It was not the lead article, but the editor of the paper acknowledged that it was "probably" the first time a foreign head of state had been accorded such an honour.

The Prime Minister gave the Pope a framed copy of a letter from an Ethiopian woman, thanking him for purchasing the first Vaccine Bond issued by the International Finance Facility (IFF), which Brown helped to set up.

"This is tangible proof of the common commitment of the Holy See and the United Kingdom in favour of international development," he declared. "Thanks to this bond more than $1.6bn (£1.1bn) has been subscribed, and 500 million children will have been vaccinated between 2006 and 2011".

The British PM said he was touched by the Pope's "warmth" in also receiving his wife Sarah and their two children at the Vatican.

Scottish Presbyterianism does not have such a regular history of warmth from and to Rome, and observers noted that the 'red carpet treatment' for Mr Brown seemed even greater than that accorded to his predecessor, Tony Blair, an Anglican who was subsequently received into the Catholic Church after he left 10 Downing Street.

The Vatican put out a rather more dry and oblique account of the meeting today. It stated: "This morning His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI received in audience Gordon Brown, prime minister of the United Kingdom who, along with the other members of his entourage, then met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B., and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

The Vatican Information Service news release continued: "The cordial conversations dealt with the present global economic crisis and the duty to pursue initiatives benefiting the less-developed countries, and to foster co-operation on projects of human promotion, respect for the environment and sustainable development. Hope was expressed for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community in settling ongoing conflicts, particularly in the Middle East. Finally, several bilateral themes were brought up, of interest above all for the Catholic community in the United Kingdom".

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