Muted welcome for pope in Scotland

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Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Edinburgh Thursday to greet Pope Benedict XVI, waving flags as his popemobile went past, though some in the crowd criticised the state visit.

Police estimated that 125,000 turned out to see the pope, but there was no repeat of the enthusiasm and outpouring of love that greeted the visit of John Paul II to Britain in 1982.

Wearing a green and blue tartan scarf around his white robes in honour of his Scottish hosts, the 83-year-old pope smiled and waved at the crowds as he made his first public appearance of the four-day trip to England and Scotland.

Crowds gathered in warm sunshine to watch his journey from the Palace of Holyroodhouse and a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II -- whose ancestor King Henry VIII broke with the church of Rome in 1534 -- to a lunch with Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

Despite threats of protests, only two small groups of demonstrators gathered to oppose the pope's visit.

However, some in the crowd criticised the 20-million-pound (31-million-dollar, 37-million-euro) cost of the trip and its timing, as the Church deals with the scandal of clerical child abuse.

The sound of marching bands and bagpipes resonated across the city as a parade marking the feast of the fourth-century Saint Ninian preceded the pope on his route, while groups of schoolchildren waved flags and strained for a glimpse.

"It's nice having him here. It's a huge step forward for Scotland. Visits like this help to legitimise the Catholic community within the country," said Barry Murphy, a 34-year-old carer from Dunfermline.

Although he expressed hope the pope would use his trip to apologise to the victims of child abuse by priests, Murphy said criticism of his leadership in the scandal, and of his social views, was overblown.

"People don't remember the amount of protests there were over pope John Paul II's visit in 1982, there was a lot of sectarianism," he said.

Shortly before arriving in Scotland, the pope expressed his sorrow for the sex abuse scandal and acknowledged the Church authorities had not done enough to deal with it, but some in the crowd were sceptical.

"It's a good public relations exercise," said Lucy Douglas, 49.

Others were critical of the cost of the pope's visit -- more than half the bill is being picked up by British taxpayers -- at a time when the country is facing deep cuts in public spending to reduce a record deficit.

"It's sad to know that in the current economic climate we've had to pay for all that. We don't have much money, the Scots are really struggling at the moment," said Amelia Black, a 48-year-old Protestant from West Lothian.

Benedict's trip is the first state visit to Britain by a pontiff -- John Paul II's was a pastoral visit at the request of the church.

"This is a historic milestone. I don't think I'll live to see another papal visit," said Alwayn Leacock, a 50-year-old health service worker from the Caribbean who now lives in Edinburgh.

Although an Anglican, not a Catholic, he insisted: "It's about faith. All religions should support the visit of the pope."

Leacock rejected those who opposed the pope's visit because of his views on contraception and gay rights, saying: "I strongly believe we should be able to agree to disagree. The visit is an overwhelmingly good thing."

And Karina Mikosz, a 32-year-old Polish woman who brought her toddler son Matt along, said the pontiff demanded respect.

"He has travelled here because he wants people to see him. It's the most important thing this year," she said. "We feel we're supposed to be wherever the pope is."

© 2010 AFP

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