Pope thanks UK with Radio 4 Thought for the Day address

  • Published
Pope recording message
Image caption,
The message was recorded earlier this week by Vatican Radio

Pope Benedict's Thought for the Day provided him with a unique occasion to address the people of Britain and the English-speaking world directly from the Vatican.

His Christmas meditation was short and to the point: that God is always faithful to his promises but often surprises us in the way he fulfils them.

At this time of the year the Pope delivers his main Christmas religious homily during midnight mass in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, and later a more general message "Urbi et Orbi" - addressed to the City of Rome and to the world - to the crowds gathered outside the Basilica on Christmas morning.

The fact that he chose first to thank Britain for the welcome he received during his September trip is a mark of just how successful this visit was seen in retrospect by the Pope and his advisers inside the Vatican.

This was not the occasion for the Pope to address some the controversies and problems that have afflicted his Church during 2010, which he might well have termed an "annus horribilis" for the opprobrium which has been heaped upon the Vatican because of the misdeeds of paedophile priests.

Image caption,
The crowd cheered loudly as the Popemobile drove past them.

Nor did he choose to mention the fact that five dissident Anglican bishops and several dozen Anglican priests are expected in Rome in the new year to begin their studies to be ordained into the Catholic Church.

The bishops are all married with children and, under new rules established by the Pope, will be allowed to retain their married status among the traditionally celibate Catholic clergy.

There was no mention either of his much-publicised reference to the Church's acceptance of the use of condoms under certain restricted circumstances during a recent book interview, nor to the current spat between the Vatican and the communist authorities in Beijing over who has the final say over bishops' appointments in China.

Vatican on YouTube

Negotiations between the BBC and the Vatican for the planned broadcast went on for many months.

It was at first proposed that Pope Benedict should give three Thought for the Day broadcasts during his stay in Britain, but the Vatican's view was that his 11 public speeches should provide adequate broadcast material during that time.

The clincher was the manner in which the British public gradually seemed to warm to the Pope during his stay, and the Christmas Eve broadcast was simply the Pope's way of saying thank you.

Image caption,
The BBC spent months negotiating for the unprecedented access

As Father Lombardi, the Pope's spokesman, put it while waiting for the Pope to arrive for the recording, the broadcast has been "a way of keeping alive this new-found friendship between Pope Benedict and the British people".

Vatican Radio, which recorded the Pope's BBC broadcast for both radio and TV, now broadcasts around the clock in some 40 different languages.

The first ever papal broadcast took place as long ago as 1931 when Pope Piu XI invited the inventor of radio telegraphy Guglielmo Marconi, to set up a transmitter in the Vatican Gardens.

Vatican TV, which records all papal events but has no dedicated channel of its own, has just taken delivery of a brand new mobile TV truck, equipped by Sony and costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, enabling it to transmit papal events in HD for the first time this Christmas.

Gradually the Vatican is become more high-tech than ever before in its long history.

The Vatican website is being expanded and developed and there is even a Vatican section now on YouTube.

And a fully secure mobile telephone network has been set up inside the Vatican for the Pope and his cardinals and top advisers.

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