“We couldn't desire a better start” for the Pope's visit to the U.K., said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, referring to the great crowds in Edinburgh. The Pope spent the morning at the queen's residence, but the thousands were able to see him traveling to and from the palace.
Pope Benedict XVI was met by what locals estimated to be 100,000 people on Princes St. in central Edinburgh as he made his way to the queen's residence on Thursday morning. Among the throng were 1,000 bagpipers who accompanied the Holy Father in a parade.
Upon arriving at the palace, the Pope gave his state welcome, encouraging British leaders to be a force for good. In her speech, Queen Elizabeth II highlighted points of cooperation between the Holy See and the U.K., hoping for mutually better understanding through dialogue so that “old suspicions can be transcended and a greater mutual trust established.”
At a press conference following the occasion, the Vatican spokesman described the encounter between the two heads of state as a meeting between families due to the warm atmosphere in the Palace of Holyrood House. Their time together consisted of a private meeting along with the queen's husband Prince Philip, introductions to other members of the royal family, a gift exchange and a reception with around 400 guests representing different areas of British life.
Of the mix of members of parliament, education, healthcare and other British officials who were invited, around 120 were able to personally meet the Holy Father as he greeted them one by one.
Following the final reception in the back garden of the expansive estate, which is a former Augustinian monastery, the Holy Father made his way to Cardinal Keith O'Brien's house for lunch as the first scarce raindrops of a cool, but otherwise dry morning began to fall.
Speaking to journalists in the frenetically busy makeshift press office on site, Fr. Lombardi reflecting on the numbers of cheering people in the streets, saying, “We couldn't desire a better beginning for this trip ...”