LONDON – Controversy surrounding the visit of Pope Benedict XVI has failed to curb the excitement of Catholics as the Pope landed in Edinburgh this morning for his official state visit to Britain.
The Pope was received at Holyrood Palace after his arrival. Among the dignitaries there to receive him were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev John Christie, and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said the four-day visit was a moment of "great pride and joy".
He said the visit was an "economic boost in austere times" for Scotland but also spoke of the opportunity for the country "to show its best face to the world."
"There have been objectors and detractors to the visit but one only needs to look at those involved to realize that they are in no way representative of the overwhelmingly welcoming majority of Scottish citizens," he said.
It is the first visit to Britain by a pope since Pope John Paul II in 1982 and the first official state visit by a pontiff these shores. Crowds were already taking up their positions in the streets of Edinburgh early this morning in anticipation of the Pope's tour through the Scottish capital in his famous Pope mobile.
The Pope was greeted off the plane at Edinburgh International Airport this morning by senior Catholic figures, including Cardinal O'Brien.
There has been strong opposition by atheists, secularists and child abuse survivors. More than 50 well known figures, including Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and Terry Pratchett, said in an open letter yesterday that while the Pope was welcome to visit Britain as a European citizen, he "should not be given the honor of a state visit."
Abuse victims are staging protests along the route to be taken by the Popemobile later in the day.
Also protesting are some Christians, including the Rev Ian Paisley and around 50 members of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, who plan to unfurl a banner stating their objection to the visit.
Rev Paisley said: "We're making a legitimate protest about something that is entirely wrong, and I am looking at myself as a person who is prepared to champion those who have been very, very badly treated by these priests of Rome," he said.
Controversy surrounding the Pope's visit deepened last night after papal aide Cardinal Walter Kasper said that anyone arriving at the airport in multi-cultural Britain would think they had landed in a "Third World country."
In an interview with German magazine, Focus, the Cardinal went on to describe an atmosphere marked by "aggressive new atheism."
Cardinal O'Brien told BBC Radio Scotland this morning that he expected Cardinal Kasper to apologize "for any intemperate remarks", while the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the comments were "inexplicable."
A spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference in England and Wales said the comments "do not represent the views of the Vatican, nor those of bishops in this country."
"Catholics play a full part in this country's life and welcome the rich diversity of thought, culture and people which is so evident here.
"This historic visit marks a further development of the good relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. We are confident that it will be a huge success."
The visit has been welcomed by church leaders from across the denominations, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Salvation Army Commissioner Betty Matear, who said it was a "cause for hope" for all Christians.
The Evangelical Alliance said the visit came at a crucial time for Britain, when it warned Christians are facing growing hostility from a small but influential secular wing.