Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Britain today to begin the first ever papal state visit to the UK.
The Pope will land in Edinburgh later this morning where he where he will meet the Queen and and parade through the city before an open-air Mass in Glasgow.
But the visit has been overshadowed by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a senior aide to the Pope, who has pulled out of the trip after saying arriving at Heathrow airport was like landing in a “Third World country”. He told a German newspaper: “England today is a secularised and pluralist country. When you land at Heathrow airport, you sometimes think you’ve landed in a Third World country.” He also complained of an “aggressive new atheism” that had spread through Britain.
The Vatican insisted that the cardinal had not intended “any kind of slight” and had simply pulled out due to illness. Officials claimed his “Third World” comment referred to the UK’s multiethnic society.
In a statement, the Pope’s spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Kasper “had meant to refer to the fact that from the moment of arrival in London airport – as happens in many big metropolises of the world today, but in London particularly because the unique role played over time by the UK’s capital – you realise from the outset that you are in a country in which many human realities of the most diverse provenances and conditions meet and mingle; a crucible of today’s humanity, with its diversity and problems”.