BELLAHOUSTON PARK in Glasgow was awash with colour yesterday as thousands of flag-waving pilgrims welcomed Pope Benedict XVI for an open-air Mass.
More than 65,000 people gathered in the south side of the city, waving Saltire and yellow and white Vatican flags. It was the first Papal visit since John Paul II came to Scotland 28 years ago when 250,000 turned out to hear the “rock-star” Pope.
Pope Benedict entered the park to cheers, organ music and hymns. As he made a circuit of the park in his Popemobile, under heavy security, he was allowed to stop. The window was rolled down and the Pontiff kissed a baby. Shortly afterwards, a pink-clad toddler was held aloft and again the Pope stopped and kissed the child twice.
The crowd sang “All people that on earth do dwell” as he drove by, then moved on to other songs. They then waited in silence as the Pope was vested for the Mass.
At the end of the opening hymn Mario Conti, the Archbishop of Glasgow, welcomed the Pope to Glasgow. He said: “Welcome to the United Kingdom, whose monarch earlier today in the name of all its citizens welcomed you.
“We, Holy Father, echo that welcome; we form a community of faith obedient to the Gospel, which has been preached in these islands for over 15 centuries – before the land to our south became England, and that on which you stand, Scotland. You come to us on the actual feast of our first-named missionary Saint Ninian, who, according to a reliable tradition, received his education in Rome and came back ordained to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and to establish His Church.
“From Rome also came Saint Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, your predecessor, whose arrival in Kent coincided with the death on the Holy Island of Iona of Saint Columba, who, with his fellow Irish missionaries, evangelised our Scottish Highlands and Islands.
“Already a Briton had taken the faith from these shores to those of Ireland, whose citizens recognise in Saint Patrick their great apostle.
“Welcome, Holy Father, to this spot where your venerable predecessor, John Paul II, challenged us for the future to walk hand in hand, and whereby we have created a warmth of friendship with which Christians throughout the United Kingdom embrace you today in your visit to the lands we love and the communities we serve.
“Finally we welcome you, Holy Father, as the Servant of Christ Jesus and the Servant of the Servants of God.
“Cead Mille Failte: A hundred thousand welcomes!”
The sun continued to shine as the Pope sat down to deliver the homily: “The Kingdom of God is very near to you. With these words of the Gospel we have just heard, I greet all of you with great affection in the Lord.
“Truly the Lord’s Kingdom is already in our midst.
“At this Eucharistic celebration in which the Church in Scotland gathers around the altar in union with the Successor of Peter, let us reaffirm our faith in Christ’s word and our hope – a hope which never disappoints ]– in his promises.
“I warmly greet Cardinal O’Brien and the Scottish Bishops; I thank, in particular, Archbishop Conti for his kind words of welcome on your behalf; and I express my deep gratitude for the work that the British and Scottish governments and the Glasgow city fathers have done to make this occasion possible.”
He added: “It is with some emotion that I address you, not far from the spot where my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass nearly 30 years ago with you and was welcomed by the largest crowd ever gathered in Scottish history. Much has happened in Scotland and in the Church in this country since that historic visit.
“I note with great satisfaction how Pope John Paul’s call to you to walk hand in hand with your fellow Christians has led to greater trust and friendship with the members of the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and others.
“Let me encourage you to continue to pray and work with them in building a brighter future for Scotland based upon our common Christian heritage.”
There were tears in the eyes of elderly pilgrims as the Pope passed on his route through the park. Youngsters wearing Bless The Pope headbands waved excitedly, while others scrambled to take photographs.
Grandmother Mary Galbraith held her young grandson aloft so he could get a better look. The 69-year-old, who travelled from Livingston, West Lothian, said the last time she saw the Pope at Bellahouston she was with her four children.
She said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. To experience this twice in a lifetime is so special.”
Eighteen-month old Alexander Frame was one of those blessed by the Pope on his arrival at Bellahouston. He suffers from a rare degenerative condition which doctors believe is neuroaxonal dystrophy, for which there is no cure.
Parents Alan and Kathleen, from Glasgow’s Clarkston area, asked Bishop Philip Tartaglia of the Paisley diocese if he could arrange for the blessing to take place. Alexander is the couple’s only child.
Car salesman Alan said: “This means so much to my wife and I. We are so grateful and we can’t thank Bishop Tartaglia enough.
“To be able to have Alexander blessed by the Pope is really special to us and the whole family.”
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