In a first for the Vatican and British broadcaster BBC, Pope Benedict XVI Friday was given a radio slot to deliver a Christmas message to the people of Britain.
The pope, 83, said he remembered his September visit to Scotland and England with great fondness. ‘I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this holy season,’ he said.
The message was broadcast only in Britain, and not on the BBC’s World Service network or TV.
Speaking on the importance of Christmas, the pontiff said the birth of Christ had brought liberation – ‘but not by military or political means’.
‘God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them,’ he added.
The pope, who rarely gives interviews or prepares direct contributions to the media, pre-recorded his message in the Vatican earlier this week.
The BBC had been negotiating for months with the Vatican for him to fill the Thought for the Day slot on its domestic radio programme, which has religious representatives from all faiths giving their personal reflections on contemporary issues every morning.
The three-minute slot is controversial, with secular groups arguing that the BBC, as a public broadcaster, should not broadcast such an item within the framework of Today, its daily morning main current affairs programme.
The majority of Britons are of the Anglican faith, while some 13 million are Roman Catholics.
The pope used his September visit to warn of the dangers of growing secularization, in Britain and in other parts of Europe.
Gwyneth Williams, the controller of the BBC’s Radio 4 programme, said she was ‘delighted Pope Benedict is sharing his Christmas message with the Radio 4 audience’.
Catherine Pepinster, the editor of Catholic newspaper The Tablet, said the broadcast was unusual.
‘This is an unprecedented thing for a pope to do, to do a script for radio, particularly, you know in a country abroad in a language that is not his own so, in that sense, it’s unprecedented, and I’m very impressed that that BBC persisted so assiduously and got it.’
However, the decision has been criticised by Britain’s National Secular Society (NSS), which also strongly opposed the pope’s visit.
‘I think it’s an extraordinarily bad choice for the BBC, and I think it’s actually a slap in the face to these tens and hundreds of thousands of child abuse victims,’ said its executive director, Keith Porteus Wood.
‘I think the problem is that the pope, and indeed the Vatican, manages – because of its chameleon status between church and state – to kind of move to a position at any moment that accords it maximum power and the least amount of accountability.’
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