Pope's UK visit schedule to contain nap breaks

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The Independent Online

Organisers of the Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain have arranged slots in the Pope’s itinerary to allow him to take a nap.

The full details of the 83-year-old's three day visit from 16-19 September were published online today for the first time and show that his trip will be crammed with official meetings, speeches and three large outdoor masses.

But there is a noticeable gap of three to four hours each afternoon where nothing is officially scheduled.

A source with knowledge of the plans told The Independent that organisers were keen to give the Pontiff time to take a rest should he wish to.

“He’s getting on a bit and may need to take a break,” the source said. Benedict is twenty years older than John Paul II was when he visited Britain in 1982.

It was also announced yesterday that the Pope would hold private meetings with individual political leaders.

David Cameron has been given a 20 minute slot, Nick Clegg has 10 minutes and the Pope will also meet former equalities minister Harriet Harman who is Acting Leader of the Opposition.

Tony Blair, who famously converted to Catholicism after stepping down as Prime Minister and was a key supporter of offering the Pope a state visit, confirmed yesterday that he would be attending Benedict’s speech to civil leaders in Westminster Hall on 16 September.

But a source quoted by the Press Association said there would be “no specific Tony Blair moment” in the itinerary for the former prime minister to hold a private meeting with the Pope.

Organisers may have also deliberately left time free in the afternoon to allow Pope Benedict to meet victims of clerical abuse. Neither the Vatican nor the British Government have confirmed whether such a meeting will take place. But last month Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the Pope was giving “careful consideration” to it.