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Pope Benedict XVI Vatican

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Pope Benedict XVI starts historic state visit


Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain is the first-ever state visit by the head of the Roman Catholic church. He was invited by the Queen and not the church and was greeted on the tarmac by the Duke of Edinburgh and a 30-strong honour guard from the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

This is only the second visit by a pope to Britain since English King Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome in 1534. Benedict XVI is likely to receive a cooler welcome than his predecessor John Paul II, who was greeted by huge crowds when he paid a pastoral visit to Britain 28 years ago.

More than two thirds of Britians say they are opposed to the visit either because of the cost, estimated to be some 20 million pounds, or because of the Pontiff's views. The 83-year-old pope has rejected contraception and the ordination of women priests.

Relations with the Church of England are also strained over the Vatican's offer last year to take in dissident Anglicans angered by the Church's move to consecrate female bishops.

Protestors who accuse the Vatican of failing to act against paedophile priests are also expected to show their anger during the visit. On the eve of the visits, British victims of clerical sexual abuse called on the pope to go further than offering an apology

One of the Pope's aides has pulled out of the trip after controversial remarks describing Britain as an "aggressively" secular "Third World Country". The head of Catholics in England and Wales said Cardinal Walter Kasper's comments were inexplicable and stressed that they did not reflect the pope's own opinion.

The highlight of the trip will be a beatification mass for the 19th century English Cardinal John Henry Newman. The pope will also celebrate prayers with the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, on Saturday evening in Westminster Abbey.