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In the footsteps of St Ninian – The Pope in Scotland

Faith Today met Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to talk about the Pope’s forthcoming visit to Scotland, St Ninian and the amazing Mrs Muldoon!

‘Yes, Theresa Muldoon, my housekeeper will be cooking for the Pope and his entourage of 37 people.’  What Mrs Muldoon will be cooking for the Pope is top secret. However, three Italian priests (good friends of the Cardinal) and eight seminarians from Rome are coming to Edinburgh on August 5 to celebrate the Cardinal’s episcopal Silver Jubliee. After Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral they will be treated to a test run of the lunch the Pope will enjoy on September 16. The amazing Mrs Muldoon, the Cardinal assures us, takes such challenges in her stride and is not losing any sleep over the prospect of cooking for the Pope.

St NinianThe Cardinal explains that the Pope has a very full schedule once he arrives in Scotland. After being welcomed formally and officially by the Queen at Holyrood Palace he will be taken to Princes Street in his Popemobile where his presence will be the climatic moment of the St Ninian’s Day Parade.  After the parade he will then make his way to Cardinal O’Brien’s residence where he will pray in the Cardinal’s private chapel, have lunch and a rest before making his way to Bellahouston Park in Glasgow for Mass later on that day.

Cardinal O’Brien is very excited about the Pope’s visit. For him it is a wonderful opportunity for Catholics in Scotland to be PC. The Cardinal is known to be more than prepared to challenge political correctness whenever it conflicts with the gospel or undermines Christian faith. So he explains that for him PC doesn’t mean ‘Politically Correct’ but rather ‘Proclaiming Christ’.  ‘The Pope’s visit to Scotland is a wonderful opportunity for us to proclaim our Christianity. It is a time for us to bear witness for Christ with joy and happiness at having the Pope, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, among us.  What a lovely vista it will be of Pope Benedict in his Popemobile travelling down Princes Street being greeted by pipe bands, cheering crowds and children lining the route enjoying this momentous and wonderful celebration of Scotland’s Christian faith and heritage.’

Pope Benedict flies into Scotland on the feast day of St Ninian and a highlight of the visit will be the St Ninian’s Day Parade down Princes Street. St Ninian is regarded as the first missionary of the Scots.  Information about him is sparse, however, we do know that he  was born round 360 AD, studied for the priesthood in Rome and was consecrated bishop there. After his consecration he returned to Scotland via France where he met with St Martin of Tours.

It will be a time for us to fly the flag for Christianity!He died around 432 AD and was buried in St Martin’s Church in Whithorn, Galloway.  The church historian St Bede records: ‘The southern Picts received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop Ninian, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth; whose episcopal see, named after St Martin the Bishop, and famous for a church dedicated to him (wherein Ninian himself and many other saints rest in the body), is now in the possession of the English nation. The place belongs to the province of the Bernicians and is commonly called the White House (Candida Casa), because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual among the Britons.’   
St Aelred wrote a life of St Ninian (Vita Sancti Niniani). Modern day pilgrims can visit ‘St Ninian’s Cave’ in Whithorn where the saint went to pray and meditate.  

Today many churches in Scotland are dedicated to him and numerous street names and institutions bear his name. Sixteen primary schools are named after him in Scotland and they will lead the St Ninian Day Parade.  

The Cardinal will not leave the Pope’s side and will travel with him in the Popemobile.  He says: ‘From the moment the Pope arrives I will be with him. I am so looking forward to it – I love formal liturgies – not every day you understand – I am equally happy saying Mass in my wee chapel in my house here – but I have to say that I am looking forward to the ceremony and pageant and that sense that people will be happy and have great cause to celebrate and be proud of their faith. It will be a time for us to fly the flag for Christianity!’

The Pope will celebrate Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow where they are expecting 100,000 people to attend. Things have changed dramatically since Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there in 1982 when over 250,000 were able to join him. However legislation, health and safety regulations and crowd restrictions have had their impact.

Princes StreetThe Cardinal does not know what the Pope is going to say when he preaches at the Mass however he is confident that he will confirm everyone in the same faith that compelled St Ninian on his first apostolic journey.

Life and human dignity are very close to the Cardinal’s heart. He has campaigned tirelessly over the years on many fronts. He has fought against Trident, the sanctity of life in the womb, care of the elderly, opposed euthanasia and opposed assisted suicide and raised his voice for the poor both at home and abroad. He is confident the Pope will touch on many of these things too and in doing so proclaim the gospel of life so dear to the Cardinal’s heart.  

Pope Benedict will confirm us all in the faith of St NinianThe Cardinal says too that the Pope is coming to teach us to pray: ‘The Pope is coming to teach us how to pray. He is coming to teach us to get closer and closer to Jesus Christ. Prayer is the greatest way of drawing near to Christ and the prayer of the Mass is the greatest way in which we can give honour and glory to God.’

As the interview draws to a close Cardinal O’Brien says that in the Scots College in Rome there is a shrine to St Ninian with a mosaic containing the words: ‘St Ninian consecrated a bishop in Rome was sent to Scotland.’   After September 16 an additional plaque no doubt will have to be made which will read: ‘Pope Benedict XVI, bishop of Rome, came to Scotland.’

We pray for the success of the Pope’s visit, we pray too for the Cardinal and last but not least we pray for Mrs Muldoon, the Cardinal’s housekeeper, who on September 16 will be busy cooking for the Pope!

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