Pope warns against 'aggressive' secularism in Britain
Pope Benedict XVI urged Britain Thursday to maintain its respect for religious traditions and warned against "aggressive forms of secularism" in his first speech of an historic state visit.
"Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society," the pope said at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, where he flew in earlier at the start of his four-day trip to Scotland and England.
"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.
"Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms."
One of the pope's aides, Cardinal Walter Kasper, caused controversy on the eve of the state visit by condemning what he dubbed "an aggressive neo-atheism" that has spread in England, in an interview with a German magazine.
He also described Britain as a "Third World country", prompting the head of Catholics in England and Wales, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent, to defend the multicultural communities here.
Welcoming the pope to Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth II said she hoped the visit would deepen ties between the Catholic and Anglican churches, and thanked the Vatican for its role in ending sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
"Your presence here today reminds us of our common Christian heritage," the queen said in a speech.
"I am pleased that your visit will provide an opportunity to deepen the relationship between the Roman Catholic church and the Established Church of England and the Church of Scotland," she said.
"Much has changed in the world during the nearly 30 years since Pope John Paul II's visit. In this country we deeply appreciate the involvement of the Holy See in the dramatic improvement of the situation in Northern Ireland.
"On behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, I wish you a most fruitful and memorable visit."
© 2010 AFP