Scotland’s First Minister has highlighted the Catholic Church’s historic role in shaping the nation and its continuing contribution to society as he hosted a reception at the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle to mark the imminent arrival of Pope Benedict XVI.
Alex Salmond also paid tribute to individuals and agencies working to ensure the success of the Pope’s visit to Scotland – many represented among the 150 guests at the event – which was also addressed by the leader of Scotland’s Catholics, Archbishop of Edinburgh & St Andrews Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
The FM unveiled a Scottish gift to Pope Benedict – a Celtic-style sandstone block inlaid with granite from St Ninian’s Cave in Galloway in south-west Scotland and with a cross in the style of the Whithorn Stones which were carved by Scotland’s early Christians.
He also made a presentation to Cardinal O’Brien for his Silver Jubilee (25 years) as Archbishop of Edinburgh & St Andrews: a framed picture of St Ninian reproduced from a stained glass window at the Castle’s St Margaret’s Chapel where earlier in the evening he and the FM attended a service celebrating the blessing of a new Scottish Youth Cross, to be taken around Scotland as a focus for prayer and by pilgrims to the Pope’s World Youth Day in Madrid next year.
Mr Salmond said:
“As we look forward to the arrival of His Holiness, it is fitting to celebrate what the Catholic Church has contributed to Scotland over the centuries. Indeed without the Church, there would have been no Scotland as a country in its own right.”
In 1218 Pope Honorius III issued a Papal Bull declaring the Scottish Church independent of any other and recognising Scotland as a ‘filia specialis’ – a favourite daughter of the Church.
Through the Wars of Independence the Church in Scotland played a leading role in rallying the Community of the Realm.
In 1320, the Church led in drafting the Declaration of Arbroath – a letter to Pope John XXII which sought his reaffirmation of Scottish independence.
In 1507, Pope Julius II recognised and celebrated Scotland’s sovereignty with a gift of the Sword of State – now one of the ‘Honours of Scotland’ located in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle.
The FM added:
“The Church in Scotland has ancient roots and a long, continuous history. It has added to the nation’s diversity and it has itself become more diverse: as emigration from Ireland was absorbed during the 19th century; Italians and others from Western Europe came over in the first half of the twentieth century; and Poles and Ukrainians joined them after the Second World War and in increasing numbers after accession to the European Union.
“The St Ninian’s Day Tartan, launched last week, symbolises that diversity: designed by an American and made by a joint effort of a Scotsman and an Italian. Its white, blue and yellow threads reflect the flags of Scotland and the Vatican.
“Today the Church contributes immensely to the nation: above all through its Christian witness; but also through the flourishing Catholic schools; through the charitable work of organisations like the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund which, as I speak, is doing such good work helping flood victims in Pakistan; and the youth clubs and pensioners clubs and countless other social activities run by Catholic Churches in parishes the length and breadth of Scotland. Parishes in which Catholics and indeed those of other faiths and denominations, throughout Scotland – the whole Community of the Realm – await the Papal Mass at Bellahouston Park on Thursday.”
Paying tribute to the Cardinal, Mr Salmond added: “I value the role all our faith communities play in enriching the life of Scotland socially, culturally, and spiritually. Faith leaders can also hold us to account and challenge those in power. Your standing and independence, Cardinal O’Brien, mean that you comment with authority from a faith based perspective and the reason we appreciate it when we are in agreement, is because we know you will not hesitate to point out when you believe we are in error. I value that voice, that perspective from you and from all our faith leaders.”
The sandstone block for Pope Benedict carries the inscription ‘Te Dominum Laudamus’ (We Praise the Lord), which are the words carved on Scotland’s most ancient Christian relic, the Latinus Stone, which was found at Whithorn, Dumfrieshire, in south-west Scotland, and dates back to around 450AD.