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Pope says can't wait for UK trip

Landmark handshake with clergywoman among events

08 September, 14:11
Pope says can't wait for UK trip (ANSA) - Vatican City, September 8 - Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday said he "couldn't wait" for his trip to the United Kingdom on September 16-19.

"I can't wait to undertake my trip to the United Kingdom in a week's time and I send heartfelt wishes to the people of Britain," the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience.

"I am very grateful to Her Majesty the Queen and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury for the invitation," said the pontiff, "and I'm looking forward to meeting them".

"I know it has taken a lot of work to prepare for the visit, not only on the part of the Catholic community but also the British government and local authorities in Scotland, London and Birmingham, and the media and security services.

"I want to say how much I appreciate the efforts that have made it possible to ensure that the various events on the schedule will really be joyous celebrations".

There have been polemics in Britain over the high cost of the visit, 12 million pounds ($18.5 million), not counting security.

The faithful have been asked to chip in with up to 25 pounds ($38.6) a head to attend events to help defray the Church's part of the bill.

The pope went on to say it would be "a particular joy" to beatify famous 19th-century Anglican convert Cardinal John Henry Newman.

"This truly great Englishman lived an exemplary clerical life and through his many writings made a fundamental contribution to the Church and society, both in his native country and in many other parts of the world" the pope said.

The pope said he was sorry he could not "go everywhere and meet everyone".

He concluded his speech, which was delivered in English, by saying "God bless the people of the United Kingdom".

GROUND-BREAKING HANDSHAKE WITH CLERGYWOMAN SEP 17.

Benedict's trip will see him shake hands with a clergywoman for the first time ever when on September 17 pope he meets Jane Hedges, the canon steward of Westminster Abbey and a leader of a campaign to ordain women as Anglican bishops.

In July the Vatican made the ordination of women a "crime against the Faith" almost as serious as clerical sex abuse.

The dean of Westminster, Reverend John Hall, told the Catholic weekly The Tablet last week: "We shall greet the pope as our guest. There will be no hint of a battle." At Wednesday's general audience the pope praised women for contributing to Church thinking.

"They are able to speak to God with special intelligence and sensitivity," he said. PROTESTS PLANNED.

A number of protests have been planned against the pope's visit, most recently by campaigners for the ordination of women who will plaster London's double-decker buses with posters along the route of his trip through the capital.

The main protest against his visit will take place on September 18, when he meets Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The 'Protest the Pope' rally has been organised by humanists, secularists and gay rights groups. Some activists have said they would like to see the pope indicted because of paedophile scandals.

Benedict will also see Queen Elizabeth II at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, the official royal residence in Scotland. He will beatify Newman at a public Mass in the English cleric's adopted home town of Birmingham in the British Midlands, the UK's second-biggest city, on September 19.

In London, the pope will say Mass at Westminster Cathedral and lead a prayer vigil in Hyde Park while he will also say Mass in Glasgow, Scotland's biggest city.

After attending a gathering about education in London, the pontiff will pray with other Christian leaders in Westminster Abbey, in a gathering seen as particularly significant given the Vatican's recent opening of a special department for groups of Anglicans to 'return to Rome'.

The theme of Benedict's trip will be inter-Church and interreligious relations.

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