Pope Benedict XVI made ecumenism one of the cornerstones of his address to some 80,000 pilgrims gathered at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow to celebrate Mass on Thursday, September 16.

Referring to his predecessor’s visit to the same place nearly 30 years ago, he said: “I note with great satisfaction how Pope John Paul’s call to you to walk hand in hand with your fellow Christians has led to greater trust and friendship with the members of the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and others.  Let me encourage you to continue to pray and work with them in building a brighter future for Scotland based upon our common Christian heritage.

“In today’s first reading we heard Saint Paul appeal to the Romans to acknowledge that, as members of Christ’s body, we belong to each other (cf. Romans 12:5) and to live in respect and mutual love. In that spirit I greet the ecumenical representatives who honour us by their presence. This year marks the 450th anniversary of the Reformation Parliament, but also the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, which is widely acknowledged to mark the birth of the modern ecumenical movement.

“Let us give thanks to God for the promise which ecumenical understanding and cooperation represents for a united witness to the saving truth of God’s word in today’s rapidly changing society.”

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Earlier in the day Pope Benedict had been welcomed to Britain by the Queen in Edinburgh. Her Majesty told him: “I know that reconciliation was a central theme in the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman, for whom you will be holding a mass of beatification on Sunday. A man who struggled with doubt and uncertainty, his contribution to the understanding of Christianity continues to influence many.

I’m pleased that your visit will deepen the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the established Church of England and Church of Scotland.”

Pope Benedict’s visit had previously been welcomed by leaders from the member churches of Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), describing it as an opportunity for the whole nation to reflect on questions of faith and as an opportunity to strengthen relationships among the churches.

Rev Lily Twist, Chair of the Methodist Synod in Scotland said it was an occasion of excitement and expectation which brought opportunity not just for the Roman Catholic Church but for all God’s people to be encouraged and challenged.  “The Holy Father’s time here is brief but my prayers are that God will bless and strengthen Christian faith and relationships as we seek to work together for the good of God’s world,” she said.

The Most Rev David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church said: “Pope Benedict is a world-renowned religious figure. His visit will place questions of faith at the forefront of people’s thinking. Our prayer is that the mission of all of our churches will be strengthened by his visit.”

The Rev Roberta Rominger, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, said: “Our congregations enjoy warm relationships with Roman Catholic congregations at local level and we are grateful for the Christian witness we have been able to share regionally and nationally. We pray that the Pope’s visit will energise and inspire the Church for all that lies ahead.”

Lieutenant Colonel Alan Burns, Scotland Secretary for the Salvation Army, said: “His visit, coinciding with the feast of St Ninian, will give Christians throughout the nation opportunity to collectively celebrate the life and work of the Churches throughout the ages.”

Pope Benedict later joined the Archbishop of Canterbury and leaders of other churches in an ecumenical celebration at Westminster Abbey in London.