As the Queen welcomes the Holy Father, Pope Benedict praises Britain's heroic Christian heritage and warns of dangers of aggressive secularism

The Queen this morning welcomed the Pope to the palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, her official residence in Scotland. As the British national anthem was sung, and as a blustery wind blew, the Pope removed his zucchetto (skullcap). The Queen welcomed Pope Benedict and said: “Your holiness, your presence here today reminds us of our common Christian heritage.” She went on to pay tribute to the work of the Church, praising its “special contribution” in working with the poor and its extensive network of schools. She hoped that this state visit by the Holy Father would deepen the ties between the Catholic Church and the Churches of England and of Scotland.

The Pope in his wide-ranging address spoke vigorously of the dangers of atheism and aggressive secularism, quoting a phrase from his encyclical Caritas in veritate, that the exclusion of God leads to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”. He began his remarks, however, by warmly saluting the Royal family, thanking in particular the Duke of Edinburgh “for his kind welcome to me at Edinburgh Airport”, present and previous Governments and Lord Patten and former Secretary of State Murphy.

He said: “The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the ‘Holy Cross’ and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years.”

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“Your forefathers’ respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the great benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike.

“We find many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history. Even in comparatively recent times, due to figures like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, Britain intervened directly to stop the international slave trade. Inspired by faith, women like Florence Nightingale served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare that were subsequently copied everywhere. John Henry Newman, whose beatification I will celebrate shortly, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands.”

The Holy Father recalled how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied people’s common humanity – especially the Jews. He also reflected on the Nazi regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who “spoke the truth in love”, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. He added: “As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a ‘reductive vision of the person and his destiny’ [a phrase from the encyclical Caritas in Veritate].”

Pope Benedict addressed the British media, saying they had “a graver responsibility than most and a greater opportunity to promote the peace of nations, the integral development of peoples and the spread of authentic human rights”. He expressed the wish that “all Britons continue to live by the values of honesty, respect and fair-mindedness that have won them the esteem and admiration of many”.

Finally he spoke of “aggressive secularism” of the modern age and noted the challenges of Britain’s efforts to be a modern and multicultural society. “In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate,” he said. “Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.” He concluded by saying: “May God bless Your Majesty and all the people of your realm. Thank you.”

The Pope afterwards moved on to a busy reception inside Holyroodhouse.

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