Pope praises Britain's WW2 fight against Nazis

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The Independent Online

Pope Benedict XVI praised Britain's fight against the Nazis today as he gave his first speech of his state visit to the UK.

The Pontiff described how the country's war time leaders fought valiantly against Hitler's forces during the Second World War.

"... We can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

"I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious leaders who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives."

The Pope comments were made at a garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where hundreds of guests were gathered in a marquee to hear him speak.

His words come as Britain commemorates the efforts of pilots and ground crew during the Battle of Britain.

A special service at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the Battle of Britain will be held this Sunday attended by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William.

The Pope was forced to join Hitler Youth as a 14-year-old schoolboy against his wishes.

The Pope went on to praise the UK's role on the world stage, telling the guests: "Sixty-five years ago, Britain played an essential role in forging the post-war international consensus which favoured the establishment of the United Nations and ushered in a hitherto unknown period of peace and prosperity in Europe."

The pontiff's arrival in the UK was partly overshadowed by the remarks of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who withdrew from the Pope's entourage after claiming Britain, with its multicultural population, was like a "third world country".

Vatican officials have reportedly attributed the change of plans to ill health and distanced the Church from the comments.

But the Pope praised modern Britain with its diverse mix of people, saying: "Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern, multicultural society.

"In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate."

Speaking on a visit to Brussels, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I would like to offer Pope Benedict a very warm welcome to Britain for this incredibly important and historic visit.

"It is the first ever official papal visit to our shores. It is a great honour for our country.

"This will be a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics, but for many people of faith right across Britain, and millions more watching around the world.

"It is a great opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution that all faith communities make to our society."