Pope leaves Rome for Britain
Pope Benedict XVI left Rome on Thursday for a historic state visit to Britain hoping to improve strained links between Catholics and Anglicans but facing protests over a range of issues.
The pope will visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham in central England, where the highlight of the four-day trip takes place with the beatification mass of 19th century English cardinal John Henry Newman.
Benedict will meet Queen Elizabeth II after flying in to Edinburgh on Thursday on the first-ever state visit to Britain by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
But the 83-year-old pope is likely to find a more muted welcome from Britain's five million Catholics than his predecessor John Paul II, who was greeted by huge crowds when he paid a pastoral visit to Britain 28 years ago.
More than two-thirds of Britons are opposed to the visit, according to a poll in The Times newspaper Tuesday, either because of the cost or because of the pope's views.
Protesters who accuse the Vatican of failing to take robust action against paedophile priests are determined to show their anger during the visit.
The issue has been thrown back into the spotlight with the publication this week of a plan to deal with priests in Belgium who have sexually abused children.
But the pope's rejection of contraception and women priests and his attitude to homosexuality will feature equally prominently when an expected 2,000 demonstrators unite under the banner "Protest the Pope" on Saturday.
On just the second visit by a pope to Britain since English King Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome in 1534, the Vatican is concerned to ease strains caused by its offer last year to take in dissident Anglicans angered by their church's move to consecrate female bishops.
The pope will meet Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican church, on Saturday and they will celebrate evening prayer together in Westminster Abbey.
© 2010 AFP