Speech by First Minister Alex Salmond at a reception in Edinburgh Castle to mark the visit of Pope Benedict to Scotland (two days ahead of visit)
“Your Eminence, Your Grace, Presiding Officer, Lord Provost, Lord Advocate, Lord Justice-Clerk, Senators of the College of Justice, Reverend, Very Reverend & Right Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle for this reception to mark the imminent arrival of His Holiness Pope Benedict the 16th on the first ever Papal State Visit to Scotland.
“The Cardinal and I have just come from a service in St Margaret’s Chapel – the oldest church and indeed the oldest building in Edinburgh. That brought home to me the historic nature of the Catholic Church in Scotland, as indeed did memories of the last time we shared in a service there, in November 2007, when we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the gift of the Sword of State by Pope Julius the 2nd to Scotland. As we look forward the arrival of His Holiness, it is fitting to celebrate what the Catholic Church has meant to Scotland over the centuries. Indeed without the Church, there would have been no Scotland as a country in its own right.
“It was in 1218 that Pope Honorius the 3rd issued a Papal Bull declaring the Scottish Church independent of any other and recognising Scotland as a ‘filia specialis’ – a favourite daughter – of the Church. Throughout the Wars of Independence the Church in Scotland played a leading role in rallying the Community of the Realm in fighting for freedom. And in 1320, the Church led in drafting the Declaration of Arbroath, of which there is replica on display. The Declaration, of course was a letter to Pope John the 22nd that sought his reaffirmation of Scottish independence.
“As an institution with its vision fixed very much on eternity, the Papacy naturally took some time to reply, in fact 187 years. But it was a reply well worth the wait. Because in 1507, Pope Julius the 2nd recognised and celebrated Scotland’s sovereignty by his gift of the Sword of State, perhaps the most precious of the Honours of Scotland. Again we have a display board portraying the Sword of State and at the end of the evening you will be able to see the genuine article when you visit the Honours in the Crown Room.
“So the Church in Scotland has ancient roots and a long, continuous history. It has added to the nation’s diversity and it has itself become more diverse: as emigration from Ireland was absorbed during the 19th century; Italians and others from Western Europe came over in the first half of the twentieth century; and Poles and Ukrainians joined them after the Second World War and in increasing numbers after accession to the European Union, with masses now said in Polish in many parishes across Scotland.
“The St Ninian’s Day Tartan that is displayed on the table there symbolises that diversity: designed by an American and made by a joint effort of a Scotsman and an Italian. Its white, blue and yellow threads reflect the flags of Scotland and the Vatican. Today the Church adds immensely to the nation: above all through its Christian witness; but also through the flourishing Catholic schools; through the charitable work of organisations like the Scottish Catholic International Aid, which as I speak is doing such good work helping flood victims in Pakistan; and the youth clubs and pensioners’ clubs and countless other social activities run by Catholic Churches in parishes across the length and breadth of Scotland. Parishes in which Catholics and indeed those of other faiths and denominations, throughout Scotland – the whole Community of the Realm – await the Papal Mass at Bellahouston Park on Thursday. We all remember the immense impact that the 1982 Mass of Pope John Paul the 2nd had, and I am sure that this will be no less moving.
“Earlier that day, at a much smaller but very special service in Your Eminence’s private chapel, the Pope will pray for Scotland, in the presence of the relics of St Andrew. I cannot imagine how moving and meaningful that will be for you, Cardinal O’Brien, as you both hold Scotland in your hearts. But I do know that the thought of two such faith leaders praying for Scotland in that way is very moving and meaningful for me and for many across Scotland. And if you could say a word for the Scotland football team, I am sure that would be much appreciated!
“I value the role all our faith communities play in enriching the life of Scotland – socially, culturally, and spiritually. Faith leaders can also hold us to account and challenge those in power. Your standing and independence, Cardinal O’Brien, mean that you comment with authority from a faith based perspective – and the reason we appreciate it when you believe that we are right, is because we know you will not hesitate to point out when you believe we are in error. I value that voice, that perspective from you – and from all our faith leaders. And I do listen even if I don’t always act on your words!
“I mentioned the Sword of State that Pope Julius gifted to Scotland, that magnificent reply to the Declaration of Arbroath, albeit 187 years late. But in fact we are in no position to criticise because the visit by His Holiness now allows us to reciprocate that gift: over 500 years in arrears! But I believe that the gift is fitting and reflects our Catholic and Christian heritage, not just as far back as 1507 or 1218 but right back to the 4th century. His Holiness arrives in Scotland on the 16th of September: the Feast Day of St Ninian – Scotland’s first saint, sent from Rome to convert the Picts. That is the day we celebrate the arrival of Christianity into Scotland in 397AD when St Ninian established our first Christian settlement at Whithorn.
“So our gift to His Holiness recalls St Ninian’s gift of Christianity to Scotland. The stonemasons of Historic Scotland have created, in the Celtic style, this beautiful Scottish sandstone block, inlaid with granite from St Ninian’s Cave, and carved with a Cross in the style of the Whithorn Stones. The inscription reads “Te Dominum Laudamus” – “We Praise the Lord” – which are the words carved on Scotland’s most ancient Christian relic – found at Whithorn and dating to around 450AD – known as the “Latinus Stone” because it is signed by one Latinus, the first Christian in Scotland whose name is known to us. It goes to His Holiness with the best wishes of Scotland.
“And tonight, I want to thank all those involved in making the visit happen – many of whom are here tonight: the police, ambulance and blue light services; Edinburgh and Glasgow City Councils and their officials; the countless parish workers the length and breadth of the country; the bus drivers and transport officials; those stewarding the events in Edinburgh and Glasgow; and; the children and pipers who will take part in the magnificent St Ninian’s Day parade that will precede the Pope along Princes Street, showing Edinburgh and Scotland and the warmth of a Scots welcome to the world. Your hard work – and no doubt sleepless nights – is very much appreciated – thank you all. Thursday will be a great day – for the Catholic Church and for all of Scotland.
“But today we are celebrating yet another momentous occasion. This year is the Silver Jubilee of the Cardinal as he marks 25 years since his ordination as Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews. We also, of course, remember the late Cardinal Winning who, with Cardinal Gray, played such a role in the pastoral visit by Pope John Paul the 2nd in 1982. As Your Eminence once said to me, Scottish Cardinals are like buses – you wait centuries for one, and then three turn up one after the other!
“I hope that you will remember the momentous day, the feast day of St Ninian, when you prayed for Scotland with the Pope, and shared in the Papal Mass at Bellahouston. And just as you, I am sure will look back with great pride on that day, so I, like all of us, look forward to it with eager anticipation. And I would invite you now, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, to address us and to lead us in prayer for the success of that visit as the eyes of the world are on Scotland.”