Pope expected to accept invitation to visit Britain

 

The pope will be “warmly received” if he visits Britain, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said yesterday after reports of a planned papal visit.

Pope Benedict XVI is ready to accept an invitation from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, according to the Sunday Telegraph, which said senior Vatican sources revealed he is planning a trip to the UK next year.

A senior cardinal is expected to arrive in Britain in the summer in preparation for the pope’s visit which could be announced by the end of the year, the newspaper reported.

A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, a permanent assembly of bishops, said: “The Catholic Church in this country would be delighted if the Holy Father was able to come. “He would be very warmly received by Catholics across the country.

“But this would depend on the very busy schedule that the Holy Father has, and there has been no definitive decision on this yet.”

A visit would first require communication from the Vatican with the Catholic Church in Britain. Downing Street said the pope is “very positive about the possibility” of a visit, following Mr Brown’s meeting with the pontiff last month.

During a private audience the prime minister, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, told the pope he would be welcomed by millions. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, wrote to the pope in 2006 extending an invitation and Tony Blair also made an invitation when he was prime minister.

If the invitation is accepted, it will be the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II’s six-day trip to Britain in 1982, which included outings to London, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff.

The visit could be timed to coincide with the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism.

The Pope is said to take a keen interest in the 19th-century cardinal. After last month’s meeting with Mr Brown a senior Vatican official said the invitation would be taken into “serious consideration”. A Downing Street spokesman said today: “When the prime minister visited the pope at the Vatican recently he extended an invitation for the pope to visit the UK. – (PA)