Pope Benedict XVI will begin an historic visit to the United Kingdom today, flying with Alitalia to Edinburgh Airport ahead of a meeting with Her Majesty the Queen.
At the start of a long-awaited four day visit, Pope Benedict will meet the Queen at The Palace of Holyrood House before a parade through the city. Some 100,000 well-wishers are expected to line the route.
The events will be followed by a Mass in Glasgow.
Pictured: The Pope is welcomed by the Duke of Edinburgh
The visit is the first to the UK by a Pontiff since a pastoral visit by John Paul II in 1982, and marks the first ever official state visit to the country.
Despite a perceived lack of interest in the UK – with many tickets for today’s mass unsold – organisers remain enthusiastic.
Monsignor Michael Regan, who has been in charge of planning the first leg of the trip, explained: “He is a Pontiff, he is the bridge-builder, and hopefully his visit to Edinburgh today, and to the United Kingdom, will be building bridges in a whole variety of different ways.”
The Scottish Government plans to fly the Vatican City flag at its headquarters to mark the historic visit.
Following the events in Glasgow, the Pope will fly to London on Thursday night and will spend the next two days meeting religious and political leaders, including prime minister David Cameron.
A vigil is planned for London’s Hyde Park on Saturday, with a beatification Mass – in honour of 19th century cardinal John Henry Newman - to follow in Birmingham on Sunday.
Pope Benedict XVI will visit Glasgow, London and Birmingham on his four day trip
Months of planning ahead of the visit have been unable to quell the controversy surrounding the trip.
High on the list of concerns for many are the ongoing child sex abuse allegations against the Catholic Church – with fresh accusations emerging in Belgium this week.
The pope has been criticized for his response to the crisis, while the fallout from the scandal appears to have dampened enthusiasm for his visit.
The estimated £12 million cost of the visit, not including security, has also been attacked by critics at a time when the British exchequer faces deep budget cuts.
More recently an aide to the Pope was forced to withdraw from the trip after branding the UK a “third world country”.
Benedict XVI’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, has, however, claimed Cardinal Walter Kasper had withdrawn “for health reasons”.
The decision to meet Queen Elizabeth II is also controversial.
The Queen is head of the Church of England, which split acrimoniously from Rome in the 16th century, a division followed by centuries of anti-Catholic sentiment.
The visit also coincides with the 450th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland.