I’ve arrived in a blustery and sunny Edinburgh at the start of this eagerly anticipated papal visit to Britain which begins here tomorrow (Thursday).
But as I write in Zenit, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Queen had changed her mind and withdrawn the invitation. No Vatican flags are on display here (though these will no doubt come out tomorrow) and the only thing reminding you of the visit are notices of travel disruption.
This is not so surprising given that Scotland is the home of Presbyterianism. Edinburgh is also the birthplace of the 18th century empiricist David Hume, and the country as a whole only has a Catholic population of 667,000 - about 13% of the total.
But the media-hyped protests that have been so much discussed look highly unlikely here. Scots I’ve spoken to say the people are generally excited and honoured that the Pope is visiting their country, even if they’re somewhat indifferent to what he will do and say. One friend here joked that the visit, whose costs have been a bone of contention, was less controversial to the locals than a new tram they are having built (they are so angered that the tram project has cost so much, they’re thinking it might be better to scrap it and cut their losses).
But as in much of Britain, you don’t have to go far to see signs of secularism, as the picture opposite shows.
You can therefore expect the Pope to recall the rich Christian legacy in Scotland tomorrow, particularly its first missionary, St. Ninian. The feast day of the 5th century saint providentially falls on the day of the Holy Father’s arrival.
Thursday will be a very full day for the Pope: a meeting and state reception with the Queen at Holyroodhouse Palace, to which 400 VIPs are invited (the Pope and the Queen will meet 120 of them). A lunch will follow with Scotland’s bishops, then Mass in Glasgow before a flight down to London in the late evening.
I’ll be trying to keep up with the Holy Father all the way and to post regular updates.