The dates for a papal visit to Britain have been announced. Pope Benedict XVI will make a State and Pastoral visit between Thursday, 16th and Sunday, 19th September 2010. It will be the first papal visit to Britain since 1982, when Pope John Paul II's six-day tour drew huge crowds.
Pope Benedict's visit would only be the second by a head of the Catholic Church since Henry VIII declared himself head of the church in England more than 500 years ago.
There are an estimated 4.2 million Catholics in England and Wales.
It is understood that the itinerary will consist of public masses and ecumenical functions but the Pope has declined an open-carriage procession and banquet at Buckingham Palace.
The Pope is expected to stay at the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's diplomatic mission, in Wimbledon in southwest London.
Jim Murphy MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, a prominent Catholic who is leading government plans for the visit has said:
"It's a unique constitutional arrangement as the pope is head of a faith and the head of state."- And by 'unique' presumably the minister means exactly the same constitutional arrangement as we have in Britain. The Queen is Head of State and Head of the Church of England. Are we to assume that no one expects a minister to understand how the government he is part of functions? -
"The official title is papal visit with the status of a state visit. Normally state visits include banquets and gold carriages but the Vatican doesn't want that."Mr. Murphy confirmed that Benedict XVI would spend three days in England and one day in Scotland, where he is likely to meet the Queen as she holidays in the country.
The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Scottish Bishops' Conference has drawn up an itinerary that has been passed to papal officials in Rome.
"It's a pretty imaginative mix of public masses, ecumenical events and other functions. Obviously, however, it's up to the Vatican to make the final decision on it."Concluded Mr. Murphy.