By Shaun Milne
FIRST Minister Alex Salmond tonight hailed the ‘Pope Benedict XVI’s State Visit to Britain as “tremendous” after his journey kicked off in Scotland.
The First Minister, who was presented to His Holiness at the State Reception hosted by Her Majesty the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the morning, hailed the start of his visit in Edinburgh as a huge success.
He said: “The public response to the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Scotland has been tremendous.
“The excitement of the young people who joined hundreds of pipers for the St Ninian’s Day parade was very clear.
“And, of course, the historical characters represented in that reflect the journey of faith that has followed since Saint Ninian brought the Gospel from Rome some 1,600 years ago.
“It’s not every day you meet Robert Burns, Bishop John Geddes and John Knox gathered together for such a celebration.
“I was honoured to meet the Holy Father and welcome him on behalf of the people of Scotland.
“We discussed St Ninian and the historical resonance of today being the saint’s feast day.
“His Holiness is clearly well-versed about Scotland’s first saint and even wore the St Ninian’s tartan scarf as he travelled through Edinburgh.
“As was clear from his address, he is also knowledgeable about our culture and traditions, as well as the modern Scotland, including our Parliament not far from where he spoke.
“It was clear that Pope Benedict is a person of great warmth and generosity, who listens and responds to those around him.
“The start of the visit has been hugely encouraging, from the State Reception at the Palace, addressed by Her Majesty and His Holiness, to the St Ninian’s Day Parade that preceded Pope Benedict’s journey along Princes Street – watched by an estimated 125,000 onlookers and up to a billion people around the world.
“It augurs well for a very special evening at Bellahouston.”
Upwards of 65,000 people were thought to have gathered in Glasgow to hear the Pope celebrate Mass.