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The pope receives a muted welcome on his arrival in Britain

Pope Benedict XVI has landed in Scotland on the opening leg of his visit to the UK. The pontiff extended a "hand of friendship" to Britain, called for lasting peace in Northern Ireland and warned against a lack of faith.

Pope Benedict XVI with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

The pope wants to "extend the hand of friendship" to the UK

At the start of the first papal visit to the UK in almost three decades, Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by members of the Royal Family and thousands of well-wishers in Scotland. While it was a friendly reception, it was a far cry from the enthusiasm that greeted the 1982 visit by his more charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.

Before touching down, the German-born pontiff admitted to reporters on board his aircraft that the revelations of widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church had shocked him.

"It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible," Pope Benedict XVI said.

A newspaper seller holds souvenir bags to mark the Pope's visit to Britain which contain a bottle of water and a snack.

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"It is also a great sadness that the authority of the church was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently quick and decisive in taking the necessary measures."

The pontiff met Queen Elizabeth II at Holyrood House in Edinburgh.

"I am delighted to welcome you to the UK and particularly to Scotland on your first visit as Pope," the Queen said. This is the first papal visit to the UK to be classified as a state visit, because it was Elizabeth II who invited the pontiff, not the church.

Secularist dangers

Some protestors lined the streets with banners and slogans including "stop protecting pedophile priests" and "pope opposition to condoms kills people," while others had advocated arresting the pontiff on arrival for alleged complicity in child abuse within the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

The German pontiff praised Britain's role in WWII

"The United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society," Benedict XVI said. "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."

These in fact highly controversial comments, echoing those of German Cardinal Walter Kasper. Cardinal Kasper, a top papal advisor, told the German magazine Focus that multicultural Britain felt like "a Third World country" to him at times. The 77-year old German also bemoaned the spread of "aggressive neo-atheism" in the country when asked about possible opposition to the Pope's visit.

Otherwise, Benedict XVI and Elizabeth II focused on more positive aspects of relations between predominantly Anglican Britain and the Roman Catholic Church, two bodies which the queen said shared "a common Christian heritage."

Religion, war, and peace

"In this country, we deeply appreciate the involvement of the Holy See in the dramatic improvement of the situation in Ireland," Elizabeth II said, referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland that pitched Catholic republicans against pro-British Protestants.

"I encourage everyone involved to continue to walk courageously on the path marked out for them towards a just and lasting peace," the pope said, also praising the British authorities for their contributions towards "a peaceful resolution to the conflict" in Northern Ireland.

Reverend Ian Paisley, centre, Ulster Protestant leader, is seen at a protest at Magdalen Chapel in Edinburgh.

Northern Irish Protestant leaders oppose the visit

The British monarch said she expected the Vatican to continue to play a key role in global affairs, for example in issues such as poverty, climate change, and peacekeeping. Religions, she said, could never become "vehicles of hatred."

"Never, by invoking the name of God, can evil and violence be justified," she said.

Pope Benedict also praised Britain for resisting the advance of Adolf Hitler's Germany in the Second World War.

"We can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live," Benedict XVI said.

The pope was to deliver an afternoon Mass in Glasgow before travelling south to England later on Thursday.

Author: Mark Hallam (AFP/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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