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Pope arrives for open-air mass in Glasgow park

Bellahouston Park in Glasgow was awash with colour this afternoon as thousands of flag-waving pilgrims welcomed Pope Benedict XVI for an open-air Mass.

More than 60,000 gathered in the south side of the city, waving Saltire and yellow and white Vatican flags.

The Pope touched down in Edinburgh earlier today at the start of a four-day state Papal visit to the UK.

He met the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse before being driven through the streets of the city before a watching crowd of some 125,000.

It is the first Papal visit since John Paul II came to Scotland 28 years ago when 250,000 turned out to hear the "rock-star" Pope.

Pope Benedict entered the park to cheers of the crowd, organ music and hymns.

As he made a circuit of the park in his Popemobile, under heavy security, he was allowed to stop.

The window of the vehicle was rolled down and the Pontiff kissed a baby dressed in a pink romper suit.

Shortly afterwards, a pink-clad toddler was held aloft from the crowd and again the Pope stopped and kissed the child twice.

The Pope smiled and waved to the crowds as he passed slowly through in the special vehicle, which was flanked by security officers.

Pilgrims held up their mobile phones to capture the event on film. Others waved and cheered as he passed by in bright sunshine.

The crowd sang 'All people that on earth do dwell' as he drove by, then moved on to other songs. They then waited in silence as the Pope was vested for the mass.

At the end of the opening hymn Mario Conti, the Archbishop of Glasgow, welcomed the Pope to Glasgow, Scotland and the UK.

He said: "Welcome to the United Kingdom, whose monarch earlier today in the name of all its citizens welcomed you.

"We, Holy Father, echo that welcome; we form a community of faith obedient to the Gospel, which has been preached in these islands for over 15 centuries - before the land to our south became England, and that on which you stand, Scotland.

He continued: "You come to us on the actual feast of our first-named missionary Saint Ninian, who, according to a reliable tradition, received his education in Rome and came back ordained to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and to establish His Church.

"From Rome also came Saint Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, your predecessor, whose arrival in Kent coincided with the death on the Holy Island of Iona of Saint Columba, who, with his fellow Irish missionaries, evangelised our Scottish Highlands and Islands.

"Already a Briton had taken the faith from these shores to those of Ireland, whose citizens recognise in Saint Patrick their great apostle.

He added: "Welcome, Holy Father, to this spot where your venerable predecessor John Paul II challenged us for the future to walk hand in hand, and whereby we have created a warmth of friendship with which Christians throughout the United Kingdom embrace you today in your visit to the lands we love and the communities we serve.

"Finally we welcome you, Holy Father, as the Servant of Christ Jesus and the Servant of the Servants of God.

"Cead Mille Failte: A hundred thousand welcomes!"

The sun continued to shine as the Pope sat down to deliver the homily.

He said: "The Kingdom of God is very near to you. With these words of the Gospel we have just heard, I greet all of you with great affection in the Lord.

"Truly the Lord's Kingdom is already in our midst.

"At this Eucharistic celebration in which the Church in Scotland gathers around the altar in union with the Successor of Peter, let us reaffirm our faith in Christ's word and our hope - a hope which never disappoints - in his promises.

"I warmly greet Cardinal O'Brien and the Scottish Bishops; I thank, in particular, Archbishop Conti for his kind words of welcome on your behalf; and I express my deep gratitude for the work that the British and Scottish governments and the Glasgow city fathers have done to make this occasion possible."

He made reference to visit of his predecessor.

He added: "It is with some emotion that I address you, not far from the spot where my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass nearly thirty years ago with you and was welcomed by the largest crowd ever gathered in Scottish history.

"Much has happened in Scotland and in the Church in this country since that historic visit.

"I note with great satisfaction how Pope John Paul's call to you to walk hand in hand with your fellow Christians has led to greater trust and friendship with the members of the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and others.

"Let me encourage you to continue to pray and work with them in building a brighter future for Scotland based upon our common Christian heritage.

"In today's first reading we heard Saint Paul appeal to the Romans to acknowledge that, as members of Christ's body, we belong to each other and to live in respect and mutual love."

There were tears in the eyes of many elderly pilgrims as the Pope passed them on his route through the park.

Youngsters wearing Bless The Pope headbands waved excitedly at the Pontiff while others scrambled to take photographs to capture the moment.

Grandmother Mary Galbraith held her young grandson aloft so he could get a better look.

The 69-year-old, who travelled from Livingston, West Lothian, said the last time she saw the Pope at Bellahouston she was with her four children who were about the same age her grandchildren are now.

She said: "I'm absolutely thrilled. To experience this twice in a lifetime is so special."

Eighteen-month old Alexander Frame was one of those blessed by the Pope on his arrival at Bellahouston.

He suffers from a rare degenerative condition which doctors believe is neuroaxonal dystrophy, for which there is no cure.

Parents Alan and Kathleen, from Glasgow's Clarkston area, asked Bishop Philip Tartaglia of the Paisley diocese if he could arrange for the blessing to take place.

The Bishop baptised Alexander, the couple's only child.

Car salesman Alan said: "This means so much to my wife and I. We are so grateful and we can't thank Bishop Tartaglia enough for all his help.

"To be able to have Alexander blessed by the Pope is really special to us and the whole family."

Alexander was not one of the two children kissed by the Pontiff as he made his way around the crowd.

The Pope said the "lay faithful" had an important role to play nowadays.

He said: "The evangelisation of culture is all the more important in our times, when a "dictatorship of relativism" threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man's nature, his destiny and his ultimate good.

"There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatise it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty.

"Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.

"For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith's wisdom and vision in the public forum.

"Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.

"Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation."

He also had a message for the young Catholics of Scotland.

He said: "Finally, I would like to say a word to you, my dear young Catholics of Scotland. I urge you to lead lives worthy of our Lord and of yourselves.

"There are many temptations placed before you every day - drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol - which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive.

"There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you.

"Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today's society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God."