John Paul’s 1982 visit to Britain an "extraordinary event"

By Vatican News

“Saint John Paul II’s visit [to Britain in 1982] was an extraordinary event in the life of the Catholic Church in the UK,” writes Sally Axworthy, the British Ambassador to the Holy See.

Axworthy notes that it was the first time a reigning pontiff had ever set foot on British soil, and that the visit “marked a historic moment in UK-Holy See relations”.

The Holy Father visited nine cities in England, Wales and Scotland over the course of six days. In addition to his meeting with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, highlights of the visit included addresses to young people in Cardiff and Edinburgh, and an open-air Mass in Glasgow that drew more than 300,000 participants.

“Ecumenism was central to his visit,” Axworthy says, noting John Paul’s visit to Canterbury Cathedral, where he met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

Pope St John Paul II with Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury

“By attending the cathedral founded by St Augustine of Canterbury on his mission to England from Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, St John Paul II made a powerful statement of the churches' determination to walk forward together,” she writes. “This ecumenical dialogue has flourished ever since.”

John Paul’s 1982 visit to Britain paved the way for future “great moments” in the life of the Church in the UK, including Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2010 and the canonisation of St John Henry Newman in 2019. The “legacy” of that visit, says Axworthy, “was the strengthening and deepening of the relationship between the UK and the Holy See that is bearing fruit today”.

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The Enduring Legacy of John Paul II’s 1982 Visit to Britain

papal visits to uk

“For the first time in history,” said Pope St. John Paul II after he stepped off the airplane, “a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil.”

Joanna Bogle, February 16, 2022 – National Catholic Register

In 2022, the Church in Britain marks an important milestone in its long history: This May, it will be 40 years since the first visit of a pope to Britain.

And it almost didn’t happen.

There had been months of preparation, much debate and discussion in the media, elaborate rehearsals by choirs and cathedrals and Catholic organizations, the hiring of massive venues, including London’s famous Wembley Stadium — and then the Falklands war broke out, and the whole idea of a papal visit was called into question.

Most people in Britain knew little or nothing about the Falkland Islands, a small British colony in the South Atlantic. In April 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falklands, swept the small British garrison aside, and announced that the islands were now in Argentinian control.  Britain responded by sending a Royal Navy task force, and effectively the British were at war.

As part of the anniversary, I have been dipping into archives and discovering the inside story of the emergency meetings and messages that went back and forth between Britain and Rome as the crisis deepened and the papal visit was at risk of being abandoned. There must have been a great deal of prayer. Pope John Paul II, of course, led the prayers for peace, and British and Argentinian bishops were summoned to Rome, where he celebrated a Mass with them all. And then came the climax of the last-minute rescue operation to save the situation: He flew to Argentina for a swiftly arranged papal visit, before going on to Britain.

It was clear throughout that the Pope was not only neutral but that he was vigorously promoting peace: This was his consistent message, and it never wavered. On this basis, he was able to fly to London’s Gatwick Airport, where, as planned in detail over the previous months, a large crowd, drawn from Catholic parishes across Surrey and Sussex, had gathered to greet him. I was among that crowd. I remember the early-morning start and the excitement as we all arrived in a chartered bus, and then the wait at the airport, where the Duke of Norfolk — by long-established tradition Britain’s senior Catholic layman — greeted the Pope at the airport steps.

This was not, it was emphasized, an official visit. This was a pastoral visit of the Pope to Britain’s Catholics. So no formal representative of the queen was at the airport, and there were no government officials. There was music, and we sang a welcoming hymn. Then there were speeches — and the history was made. The Pope summed it up when he proclaimed, “For the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil.”

In its own way, the tragedy of the Falklands War — more than 800 men, British and Argentinian, would eventually lose their lives in the fighting — helped to create a situation where old antagonisms dating back to the Reformation in Britain seemed to dwindle away. The papal visit became a true opportunity for a message of peace and goodwill, with anti-Catholicism of the old sort somehow at variance with a general recognition of the needs of the modern era. The whole visit had, in any case, been planned with ecumenical goodwill in mind, and there were some powerful moments, notably at Canterbury Cathedral, where the Pope prayed with Anglicans at the site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket.

And, yes, he did meet the queen — a courtesy visit, with tea at Buckingham Palace — with evident goodwill on both sides. Queen Elizabeth was wearing, I remember, a blue dress, and they were smiling and chatting as they emerged from the palace after tea. Postcards of the scene quickly became popular — I’ve still got mine.

The papal pilgrimage had the seven sacraments as its theme. At a packed Mass at Westminster Cathedral, the Pope baptized seven candidates of various ages, and then, after crossing the Thames at Lambeth Bridge, he arrived at St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, which had been cleared of pews and filled with stretchers and wheelchairs bearing sick and disabled people from across Britain, and he administered the sacrament of the sick. And so it went on, across England and Wales and Scotland, with a penitential service, first Holy Communions, confirmations, ordinations and renewal of marriage vows. Vast crowds came, powerful moments of prayer experienced.

It was an unforgettable time. Looking back through the archives, something of the joy and excitement is still evident. So, too, are the changes since those days — the letters are typewritten (remember typewriters?) and there is just one reference to “a computer being installed” as a great innovation at one venue to store relevant information. Color photography relied entirely on film, paper and chemicals (some of the pictures have that curious greenish tinge that I remember well).  Fashions have, of course, changed: Ladies wore dresses, and there were even quite a lot of hats.

What did the papal visit achieve? A great deal. With its massive television coverage, it opened up an authentic vision of Catholic worship: from how Catholics pray to the centrality of the Eucharist. People saw what a baptism is and what is meant by the anointing of the sick. They saw the Pope as a bishop, a man in a white robe preaching about peace and the importance of family life and family prayer. Old notions of the Pope as a sinister foreign figure intent on imposing some sort of political rule were recognized as propaganda from a vanished era.

And that 1982 visit was followed, in the next century, by an official state visit by Pope Benedict XVI, where among much else, he addressed Parliament with a magnificent setting out of the respective roles of Church and state centered on a ringing call for true religious freedom. He led young people in a massive unforgettable night vigil of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in London’s Hyde Park, and he beatified John Henry Newman in a glorious Mass at Cofton Park on the outskirts of Birmingham.

The year 2022 sees another major milestone in Britain’s story: the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. She has always been clear in her commitment to the Christian faith and spoken of it as central to her life and service.

So much has changed in the 70 years of her reign. While there has been progress in fields that include health and general prosperity, there is also much that is cause for great sadness: Britain is a country with too much violent crime, many unhappy young people, a drug crisis, a worrying suicide rate, and a collapse in a general understanding of many basic moral values, including the value of human life itself.

But the Christian message is still on offer and is the message that holds the hope of renewal; and in a country with a long history, and a tradition of marking anniversaries and jubilees, 2022 brings scope for missionary activity on a new scale. We must pray the opportunity is taken up. A reminder of that historic papal visit four decades ago is part of that.

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papal visits to uk

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Papal visit details announced

Lord Patten of Barnes, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Papal visit, and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, Head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, have announced further details of Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

papal visits to uk

The Pope’s visit to the UK, from 16 to 19 September, is at the invitation of Her Majesty The Queen and is the first official Papal visit to the UK. Pope John Paul II made a purely pastoral visit in 1982, but this visit will combine pastoral events - where the Pope will engage with the Catholic faithful of the UK - and a range of official events.

Pope Benedict will meet The Queen at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, as well as making a major speech in Westminster Hall to an audience of civil society and members of both Houses of Parliament. During the visit, there will also be bilateral discussions between senior Ministers of the British government and the Holy See.

On the pastoral side, the centrepiece of the visit will be a mass of Beatification of Cardinal Newman - the penultimate step before papal recognition of sainthood.

The visit is an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen ties between the UK and the Holy See and build on our shared work and goals internationally. The UK and the Holy See share a commitment to international development and the eradication of poverty, and a conviction of the need for urgent action to address climate change. The Vatican City is on track to be the world’s first carbon neutral state, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said he wants this Government to be “the greenest Government ever”.

Lord Patten remarked that the Coalition Government is ‘honoured’ that the Pope is making the first official Papal Visit to the UK, and mentioned our shared priorities, particularly with regard to international development. Archbishop Nichols commented on the historic nature of the visit and noted that Pope Benedict is ‘profoundly looking forward’ to coming to the UK.

There will be significant benefits to the UK as a result of the visit, not least the deepening of our strong relationship with the Holy See, and the development of shared policies and work on global issues.

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Controversy Accompanies Historic Papal Visit To U.K.


Sylvia Poggioli

papal visits to uk

Children arrive for a rehearsal at Glasgow's Bellahouston Park ahead of Thursday's visit by Pope Benedict XVI. The pope will celebrate Mass in the park following his visit to Edinburgh, where he will be met by Queen Elizabeth II. Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images hide caption

The first state visit by a pope to Britain comes at a low point in relations between Catholics and Anglicans and under the weight of the clerical sex abuse crisis.

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Scotland on Thursday morning to spend four days in Britain -- the first visit by a pope in nearly 30 years and the first papal state visit since King Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534 over a divorce.

The trip includes a meeting with Queen Elizabeth in Scotland, a speech in Westminster Hall, an ecumenical service with the archbishop of Canterbury and the beatification of a 19th century Anglican who converted to Catholicism.

Looming over the visit are 400 years of religious tensions and more contemporary divisions.

Particular Challenges For Benedict

Protests are being planned by gay activists, secularists, advocates of female ordination and militant atheists -- some of whom have called for Benedict’s arrest on charges of covering up sex abuse of minors by priests.

papal visits to uk

Pope Benedict XVI (right) prays during his weekly general audience Wednesday at the Vatican. Benedict takes his campaign to revive Christianity in an increasingly secular Europe to Britain on Thursday. He faces a daunting task in a nation largely at odds with his policies and where disgust over the church sex abuse scandal runs high. Alessandra Tarantino/AP hide caption

Pope Benedict XVI (right) prays during his weekly general audience Wednesday at the Vatican. Benedict takes his campaign to revive Christianity in an increasingly secular Europe to Britain on Thursday. He faces a daunting task in a nation largely at odds with his policies and where disgust over the church sex abuse scandal runs high.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi is unfazed.

“There have always been protests by some groups during papal visits,” he says. “There will be more groups on this trip -- such as atheists and anti-papists."

Lombardi adds, “It’s normal in a pluralistic society like the British one. We are not worried because we believe the media has overblown reality."

But a visit to such a pluralistic society is particularly challenging for a pope who has set as his mission the re-evangelization of Europe.

Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, says the pope’s main goal is "to try to help make a space in society for religion, for faiths."

"It is very clear that [the pope] believes that the Catholic Church and Catholics within that church have been too lax in presenting the faith in reasoned, rational, argued terms that can stand up toe to toe in the arena of ideas," Mickens says.

Weekly church attendance among Britain’s 5 million Catholics has been dropping steadily, as it has elsewhere in Europe. In fact, many tickets to papal events -- which unusually carry a price tag -- have gone unsold.

Anglican-Catholic Relations A Key Issue

Just 11 months ago, the Vatican stunned the Church of England when -- without consulting the archbishop of Canterbury -- it offered to take in dissident Anglicans angered over their church’s consecration of female and homosexual bishops.

Anglican critics see it as part of a centuries-old campaign by Rome to annex the Anglican Church.

Vatican analyst Marco Politi says Catholic-Anglican relations are at their lowest point in recent history, as the Vatican tries to woo Anglican conservatives.

“All the issues of modernity which already in the Catholic Church the pope is fighting are just the reasons for which he is embracing this traditionalist part of the Anglicans,” Politi explains.

Benedict has the dubious precedent of having caused offense during several of his foreign travels: his remarks in Germany describing Islam as violent, which outraged Muslims; and his claim on his way to Africa that the use of condoms spreads AIDS.

Some Vatican watchers say Benedict’s decision to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, a priest in the Church of England who converted to Catholicism in the 19th century, could further strain relations with Anglicans.

The pope has described the decision as an act of ecumenism. But Politi points out that Benedict has always upheld the primacy of Catholicism -- “that the only real church is the Catholic Church, and that the Protestant churches for him are not real churches but only Christian communities.”

God's Somewhat Surprising 'Rottweiler'

Benedict will not receive the warm welcome given to his charismatic predecessor Pope John Paul II in 1982. Many of the British media have been openly hostile to the papal visit, which is costing British taxpayers some $18 million.

But The Tablet 's correspondent Mickens says Britons may be surprised when they see firsthand the man described as "God’s Rottweiler." “They will see someone who speaks with a lilting voice, soft-spoken, and he’ll look sweet and have white hair," Mickens says.

“But in the end," he adds, "the words will remain and he is going to have to choose his words carefully on this visit, words that are said with great kindness in the voice but really have a sharp bite to them on the page."

Related NPR Stories

The two-way, before state visit, pope benedict xvi aide analogizes u.k. to 'third world country'.

Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society

Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society

Papal Visit (John Paul II)

On 29 May 1982 Pope John Paul II became the first reigning Pope ever to visit UK. The Canterbury city streets were lined with 25,000 well-wishers when he arrived by helicopter and travelled to the cathedral.  After a meeting with Dr Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Prince of Wales, held at the deanery, the Pope attended a ceremony with Dr Runcie and Rev Dr Kenneth Greet (Methodist minister), renewing their baptismal vows together. The church leaders then greeted all the cardinals and bishops with a “kiss of peace” before lighting candles for Christian martyrs of different faiths.  Later, the Pope and Archbishop Runcie knelt in silent prayer at the spot where Thomas Becket  was murdered in 1170 (Image 1 – copyright uncertain).

What to see:

  • the wall tablet in the Martyrdom  commemorating the Pope’s visit  (Image 2)
  • the Papal insignia placed later in the cloisters – the letter M signifies the Virgin Mary (Image 3)

Sources:  see  standard  cathedral sources

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Why is pope benedict xvi visiting britain.

  • Pope doesn't travel often; British opinion of him ranges from indifference to hostility
  • Pope relishes arguing for religion in such a secular society, says expert
  • Expert: Pope wants to reach out to Anglicans
  • Benedict often benefits from foreign travel, coming out more popular, says expert

London, England (CNN) -- As the United Kingdom braces to receive one of the best-known and most controversial figures on the planet, Pope Benedict XVI, a question hangs over the state visit: Why is he coming?

The leader of the world's 1 billion-plus Catholics does not particularly like to travel, Benedict biographer David Gibson says.

Since a high-profile visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories nearly a year-and-a-half ago, he's gone only to a handful of small countries not far from Rome -- racking up nothing like the number of air miles logged by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

And the United Kingdom is not a Catholic country. On the contrary, Britain's break from Rome in the 16th century echoes, if faintly, to the present day, with laws on the books forbidding the heir to the British throne from marrying a Catholic.

In fact, the country is one of the less religious ones in Europe, home to vociferous critics of religion, like Richard Dawkins, and those who find belief in a higher power simply unnecessary, like Stephen Hawking.

papal visits to uk

Public opinion on the eve of his visit ranges from indifference to downright hostility. There will be protests from critics who consider him a protector of pedophiles and from liberal Catholics who resent his staunch defense of orthodox doctrine.

And all this will play out in in front of the British media -- one of the world's most aggressive.

So why, aged 83 and happier at home, is the professorial vicar of Christ on earth stepping into the lion's den? It may be the very factors that seem to argue against his coming that impelled him to come, according to two experts.

This pope relishes a challenge, said John Allen, CNN's senior Vatican analyst. His "No. 1 priority is to combat secularism, and in some ways the United Kingdom is the dictionary definition of a post-religious society," Allen said. "He just created a whole new department in the Vatican to reawaken the faith in the West, and this trip is a chance to elaborate a strategy."

Benedict will make what the Vatican is billing as one of the major speeches of his papacy in London on Friday, making the case for religion over a purely secular society. Benedict biographer Gibson said the pope, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has a history of rolling up his sleeves and taking on his intellectual opponents.

"He enjoyed it when he was cardinal -- going to various places and venues and presenting controversial views in a polemical tone," said Gibson, the author of "The Rule of Benedict." "Britain is such a redoubt of secularism, he can [try to] slay the dragon in its lair. He can't resist, really," Gibson said.

A close confidant of Benedict made headlines shortly before the visit by likening London's Heathrow Airport to a Third World country, but Cardinal Walter Kasper also very pointedly criticized what many Christians see as enforced secularism in the United Kingdom.

While Benedict is picking a fight with secularism, he also needs to mend bridges with fellow Christians, both experts said. The Catholic Church moved surprisingly forcefully last year to make it easier for disaffected members of the Church of England to switch allegiance to Rome, sparking consternation in a deeply divided Anglican world.

Benedict "cares about relations with the Anglicans, seeing it as the model for relations with all the other Christian churches in the West," CNN's Allen said. Creating "new structures to welcome Anglican converts into the Catholic Church" is seen by many Anglicans "as poaching, so he needs this trip to mend fences."

Allen compared the trip to Britain to one Benedict made to Turkey in 2006 after the pope made controversial comments about Islam. On that trip, the pope appeared with a top Muslim religious leader at Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque. This week he will pray with the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in London.

Gibson also sees an element of outreach to the Anglican archbishop in the pope's visit -- but also to his flock.

"He doesn't want to have bad relations with Rowan Williams, but he also makes very clear that he wants closer relations with traditional Christians," Gibson said. "He is looking for allies."

Indeed, a leading voice for conservative members of the Church of England, Canon Chris Sugden, said, "Many orthodox Anglicans in England would feel that they share more in common with the pope than with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church [Rowan Williams]."

That doesn't mean Anglicans see eye-to-eye with the pope on a number of important theological issues, he said, but added, "We welcome the pope's visit because it raises many of the critical challenges to the current elite secularism that is being imposed on us," he said.

And if his religious message proves unpopular in Britain, particularly against the backdrop of the sex abuse scandals enveloping the Catholic Church, Benedict really doesn't mind, Gibson said. "He sees criticism almost as a form of persecution that reinforces the importance and the truth of his message," he said.

"He doesn't care about popularity and in fact revels a bit in drawing protests -- that whole dynamic of being despised proving your faith."

Coming under sufficiently intense criticism could even rebound in Benedict's favor, Gibson said. "British tabloids can be so over-the-top that they can prove his point," he said. "He could become a sympathetic figure."

Visiting the United States three years ago boosted Benedict's popularity there, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. This visit could have a similar effect in the United Kingdom, Allen said.

"My prediction: He'll do better than people expect," he said. "He usually does on the foreign trips."

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Papal visit to UK breathes more easily with Patten on board

papal visits to uk

Pope Benedict XVI's 16-19 September visit to the UK is firmly back on the tracks after three months of confusion following a change in government and seemingly endless changes to the timetable.

  • 16 September : Benedict XVI is received by the Queen in Scotland at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh. He travels (in the Popemobile) through Edinburgh and onto Glasgow, where he says Mass at Bellahouston Park.
  • 17 September : Benedict XVI spends the morning in south-west London at St Mary's University (Twickenham) where he has a dialogue with people of different faiths in public life, and speaks via weblink to thousands of schoolchildren around the country. In the afternoon he visits the Archbishop of Canterbury and leading Anglican bishops at Lambeth Palace (which faces Parliament across the Thames), then goes on to address 1,000 civic leaders in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster (Parliament) -- the place where St Thomas More was tried and condemned for treason. Then he crosses Parliament Square for Vespers at Westminster Abbey, where he prays -- with Dr Rowan Williams -- at the eleventh-century tomb of St Edward the Confessor. The Pope then retires, but his retinue -- cardinals, bishops and monsignori from various Vatican departments -- attend a state banquet hosted by the Queen in Pope Benedict XVI's honour at Buckingham Palace.
  • 18 September : Saturday is taken up with pastoral events, beginning with Mass at Westminster Cathedral and a meeting with the prime minister, David Cameron, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and the leader of the opposition, Harriet Harman. Pope Benedict then visits a residential home for the elderly -- which gives plenty of opportunity for messages to counter moves towards legal euthanasia -- before holding a prayer vigil in Hyde Park.
  • 19 September : Sunday is spent in Birmingham, where Pope Benedict will beatify Cardinal Newman at a Mass attended by about 90,000 in Cofton Park, next door to Rednal -- where Newman and his companions kept their summer house and where Newman was buried. From Rednal the Pope will visit the Oratory in Birmingham to meet the community and pray in Newman's rooms. After that, Pope Benedict will travel to the seminary of Oscott to talk to the bishops of England and Wales, before flying back to Rome.

Archbishop Nichols said there would be many "iconic images" during the visit: the Pope with the Queen, entering Lambeth Palace, speaking in the Hall where St Thomas More was tried, praying with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the tomb of St Edward the Confessor, and so on. These moments "will give us the chance again to read our shared Christian history" and to realise that "faith is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be re-discovered afresh". Benedict XVI, he said, "will invite us to look again at this gift". He said Pope Benedict was "aware of the momentum and magnitude of the visit" and was greatly looking forward to it. In the next few days details will be announced of how people will be able to follow and be with the Pope during his visit -- on TV, on the web, or attending the events -- and there would be a detailed booklet containing the liturgies, which Catholics and others could follow, Archbishop Nichols said, adding that the events were open to non-Catholics but attendance would need to be organised via Catholic parishes for security reasons. "We in the Catholic community are very conscious that the UK will be the centre of world attention, and we are proud to show all that is best about this country", he added.

papal visits to uk

Jim McCrea 13 years 7 months ago After reading this and following the coverage in recent issues of The Tablet, I'm getting the impression that British Catholics are not exactly jumping for joy at this visit.  It appears to be a rather ho-hum reaction - and they aren't exactly forthcoming with the pounds and pence needed to fund this Royal Ecclesiastical Visit.

Tamzin Simmons 13 years 7 months ago There's a fair amount of enthusiasm for the visit among British Catholics (it's a significant landmark) but when the country is still in recession and the Church is being rocked by the abuse scandals, it does tend to dim your excitement a little bit about all the pomp and ceremony, however much (conversely) you might be looking forward to attending one of the events.

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Another papal visit to the UK 'inconceivable' for many years

This week marks ten years since Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the UK.

Benedict spent four days here in 2010 from September 16 to September 19 when he visited to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, a nineteenth century English theologian and poet.

However, it seems highly unlikely another papal visit will happen for many years to come, according to leading papal biographer, Austen Ivereigh.

Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis, told Premier he remembers the weeks leading up to Benedict's visit as being very turbulent with a lot of demonstrations but the visit itself: "went off beautifully and calmly and hearts were opened."

After flying firstly to Scotland on September 16, where he was received by the Queen, the following day Benedict appeared at Westminster Hall where he addressed politicians and business leaders.

On the evening of September 17 he took part in a service of Evening Prayer with the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

It was the first papal visit to the UK since 1982. Pope John Paul II's visit in late May of that year included an address at York racecourse when he spoke to nearly two hundred thousand people.

Papal visits to the UK have been historically rare and the coronavirus pandemic will make another visit even less likely for years to come.

Austen Ivereigh told Premier: "If you had asked me before the outbreak of coronavirus, how likely was it that we would have another papal visit soon I would say extremely unlikely and now obviously with COVID, one has to say impossible at least inconceivable certainly at least for the next years."

Meanwhile Pope Francis resumed limited public audiences on September 2nd, six months after halting the practice because of the coronavirus crisis. The public audiences are socially distanced and attendees are masked. 

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A Ukrainian soldier walks past destroyed buildings after attacks in the city of Orichiv, Zaporizhzhia.

Russian defence ministry says Ukraine poisoned two Moscow-installed governors

Pjotr Sauer

Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that Ukraine previously poisoned the Moscow-installed governors of Ukraine’s Kherson and Luhansk regions, though both were still alive.

In an online briefing, Moscow said Ukraine poisoned Moscow-appointed Kherson head Vladimir Saldo in August 2022 and Luhansk governor Leonid Pasechnik in December 2023.

Kherson and Luhansk regions were among four Ukrainian provinces that Russia declared it had annexed in September 2022, even though it did not fully control any of them.

Both Russian and Ukranian media previously reported Saldo’s poisoning.

Russian-installed authorities in Kherson said in August 2022 that Saldo had fallen sick, but did not say that he had been poisoned. Saldo has since returned to public prominence in the Russian-controlled part of Kherson region.

According to unconfirmed reports, Saldo could have been poisoned by his chef.

Pasechnik’s alleged poisoning has not been previously reported. The defence ministry said he was “severely poisoned with phenolic compounds’.

On 11 December, less than a week after his alleged poisoning, Pasechnik was shown at a press conference in Moscow and appeared healthy.

There have been numerous Ukrainian attacks targeting Moscow-installed puppet officials since Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Closing summary

The White House could be prepared to send Ukraine long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (Atacms) if Congress approves a new funding package, NBC News reported .

The Red Cross said it was trying to find out what happened to 23,000 people who have disappeared over the course of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was seeking to determine whether they had been captured, killed or had lost contact after fleeing their homes,

Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that Ukraine previously poisoned the Moscow-installed governors of Ukraine’s Kherson and Luhansk regions, though both were still alive. In an online briefing, Moscow said Ukraine poisoned Moscow-appointed Kherson head Vladimir Saldo in August 2022 and Luhansk governor Leonid Pasechnik in December 2023.

European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen , has won the backing of her German centre-right party for a second term, putting her in a strong position to clinch another five years running the European Union’s executive body.

Ukrainian troops are facing “heavy fire” from Russian forces in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a Ukrainian army spokesperson was quoted by AFP as saying . It comes after Russia said it had taken full control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka , its biggest gain since capturing Bakhmut last May, after a retreat by Ukrainian troops.

Ukraine’s military said it shot down two more Russian warplanes used to drop highly destructive guided aerial bombs on Kyiv’s troops, army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said . The destroyed planes were an Su-34 fighter-bomber and an Su-35 fighter, Syrskyi wrote on Telegram. Over the weekend, Ukraine said it shot down three Russian Su-34s and one Su-35.

Yulia Navalnaya , the widow of Alexei Navalny, said she would continue the work of the Russian opposition leader as she accused Vladimir Putin of killing him. “I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” Navalnaya said. “Vladimir Putin killed my husband,” she continued, adding that she would work with the Russian people to battle with the Kremlin to create a new Russia. “By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me - half of my heart and half of my soul,” Navalnaya said. Navalny’s mother and his lawyers were not allowed into the morgue in the Russian town of Salekhard , near the prison colony where authorities said he died, Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh , said earlier .

Speaking on his way into the summit of foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Estonia’s foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna , called Vladimir Putin a “murderer” and said Ukraine urgently needs more ammunition.

The Kremlin said that the west’s reaction to Alexei Navalny’s death was “absolutely unacceptable”. “We consider it absolutely unacceptable to make such, well, frankly obnoxious statements,” the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.

Austria’s defence minister, Klaudia Tanner , announced the procurement of 225 Pandur armoured personnel carriers for around €1.8bn (£1.5bn). The procurement is “an investment in the future, the security and the Austrian economy,” Tanner said during a press conference .

Belgium’s foreign minister, Hadja Lahbib , has called on the EU to develop an army amid increasing nervousness about Russia’s capacity to defeat Ukraine.

Journalists at Mediazona , a Russian independent media outlet, together with BBC Russia, confirmed the names of over 44,000 Russian soldiers who have been killed since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Tests on Alexei Navalny’s body will take 14 days to complete, Ivan Zhdanov, an ally of the late Russian opposition leader, said on Monday, citing an investigator.

Earlier on Monday, Navalny’s aides said his mother and his lawyers had not been allowed into the morgue in the Russian town of Salekhard near the prison colony where authorities said he had died.

In London, a Foreign Office minister is shortly expected to make a statement in the House of Commons following the death of Alexei Navalny , No 10 has said. You can follow all of the latest UK political coverage in this blog .

European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen , has vowed to defend democracy from those who sought to destroy it as she won the backing from German conservatives for another five-year term running the EU’s executive body (see earlier post at 12.50 for more details).

“The most important thing is democracy, the rule of law that we defend and the peace that we have together,” von der Leyen said at a news conference in Berlin.

She said her election campaign wanted to make it clear to Vladimir Putin and far-right parties in Europe that “democracy in Europe is in their way”.

“They want to destroy it, they want to destroy Europe and that is why it is so important that people help to ensure that their Europe is preserved,” she said.

Biden administration considering supplying Ukraine with long-range missiles - report

The US outlet reported:

After months of requests from Ukrainian officials, the Biden administration is working toward providing Ukraine with powerful new long-range ballistic missiles, according to two US officials. Late last year, the US began to supply Ukraine with Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as Atacms, but so far it has provided only the older medium-range Atacms. Now, the U.S. is leaning toward sending the longer-range version of the missile, the officials said, which would allow Ukraine to strike farther inside the Russian-held Crimean Peninsula. But US funding for arms shipments to Ukraine remains uncertain because of opposition from former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress. Last week the Senate passed a $95bn foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. But it’s not clear whether or when the GOP-controlled House will vote on the measure or whether it would survive the vote… Defence officials told NBC News that the US has a limited inventory of Atacms and that it is not likely to send them to Ukraine without money to replenish US stockpiles. If Congress approves more funding for Ukraine, the US could include the long-range Atacms in one of the first packages of military aid paid for with that money, according to the two US officials. The US also has ammunition and artillery ready to send to Ukraine immediately if the funding is approved, the officials added.

Germany is to propose a new batch of sanctions against Russia over the death of Alexei Navalny .

“We have seen the brutal force with which the Russian president represses his own citizens who take to the streets to demonstrate for freedom or write about it in newspapers,” the German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said on Monday. “We will propose new sanctions in light of the death of Alexei Navalny.”

Sanctions could include the use of frozen Russian assets, a move that would be in addition to a levy Belgium exacts from interest on immobilised cash reserves.

I am proposing to EU Member States to rename our Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime the "Navalny Regime". To honour his memory, for his name to be written on the work of the EU in the defence of human rights around the world. — Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) February 19, 2024

The death of the Russian opposition leader in a penal colony cast a long shadow over the Brussels meeting, with the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, proposing that the EU’s global human rights sanctions regime be renamed.

You can read the full story by the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent, Lisa O’Carroll , here:

Eleven Ukrainian children were setting off from Russia to Ukraine on Monday to be reunited with their families in the latest transfer under a Qatari-mediated scheme.

The children, aged between two and 16, were hosted at the Qatari embassy in Moscow on Monday ahead of a long journey via Belarus which should see them cross into northwestern Ukraine on Tuesday, AFP reports.

This latest operation reportedly includes several children with special medical needs, including two aged five and six who have chronic conditions.

Summary of the day so far...

  • Ukraine war live

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Russia-Ukraine latest: Navalny's body to be held and undergo 'chemical exam' for two more weeks, his mother told

Alexei Navalny's body will be held by the Russian authorities for another 14 days as tests are carried out, his spokeswoman has said his mother was told. Earlier on Monday, his widow claimed the dissident was poisoned and his body was being hidden.

Tuesday 20 February 2024 01:01, UK

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  • Navalny's body will not be released for another two weeks, ally says
  • His widow claims he was poisoned and body being hidden
  • CCTV cameras appear to capture midnight convoy transporting body
  • Diana Magnay : There are howls of protests when Putin critics die but nothing changes
  • Podcast: Did Russian opposition die with Navalny?
  • Russia 'takes control' of Ukrainian stronghold

Widespread reports have emerged suggesting that a Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine last year was found dead in an underground garage in Spain last week.

Spanish and Ukranian outlets quote a Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman as saying that Maxim Kuzminov had been shot several times. 

Mr Kuzminov landed a Russian helicopter in Ukrainian-held areas of Kharkiv last year, before denouncing President Putin and his war in Ukraine. 

It is not clear who was behind the reported killing, but Spain's La Informacion newspaper, which first reported the shooting, said investigators were searching for two suspects who had fled in a vehicle that was later found burnt out in a nearby town.

Spain's state news agency EFE reported that a body was found on 13 February in the town of Villajoyosa, near Alicante in southern Spain.

Spanish police have confirmed that a body was found in the area with gunshot wounds, but have not disclosed the victim's identity, while a source at Spain's Guardia Civil police force told the Reuters news agency that the victim could have been living under a false identity.

A move teased by Foreign Secretary David Cameron to seize frozen Russian funds would send a powerful message to Russia, a former UK national security adviser has told Sky News. 

Speaking on  Politics Hub With Sophy Ridge,  Lord Peter Ricketts said "pretty much everything in the locker has been used" already to sanction Russia and that more set to be announced later this week will likely be "more of the same".

What the West has not done yet is seize Russian central bank assets abroad due to legal issues, he pointed out, but noted Lord David Cameron teased that move last week.

Such a move, he said, would "send a very, very powerful signal".

More broadly, US Republicans hesitating on aid for Ukraine is "deeply worrying" he said and presidential hopeful Donald Trump keeps coming out with "weird things" on this topic.

"If America withdrew their support," he said European allies would struggle to substitute the weaponry provided at short notice.

You can watch more of his interview here...

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron has said he expects the UK and G7 to impose fresh sanctions on Russia following Alexei Navalny's death.

"I think the first thing is just to remember what a great man Alexei Navalny was, and what an appalling regime Putin runs in Russia," Lord Cameron told reporters during a visit to the Falkland Islands. 

"There will be consequences," he said.

"What we do in these situations is we look at how someone's human rights have been damaged and the individual people that caused that, and we're able to go after those people with particular measures," he added. 

He said he could not offer more details ahead of a more formal announcement, "but what I can tell you is at the G7 foreign ministers' meeting in Munich, I pressed that the UK will be doing that (introduce more sanctions) and I urged other countries to do the same". 

"And I believe very much that both those things will happen."

Ukraine has asked Elon Musk's SpaceX to act to prevent Russia from using its Starlink terminals to communicate in occupied Ukraine, a government minister has been quoted as saying. 

Deputy prime minister and minister of digital transformation Mykhailo Fedorov told public Suspilne television that Ukrainian authorities had sought action from SpaceX even before Russia's use of the terminals had become well known.

"We found an algorithm and made a proposal to SpaceX and are in communication with them to ensure that such cases do not occur," Mr Fedorov told the broadcaster. 

Ukraine has extensively used the technology since the Russian invasion for its communications across the frontlines. 

Starlink has previously said it does not do business of any kind with Russia's government or military, but the Ukrainian military intelligence chief told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that Russian troops were using thousands of the terminals, after acquiring them from private Russian firms that purchased them from intermediaries.

Russia will have to be "dealt with" as long as Vladimir Putin remains in place, former US speaker Nancy Pelosi has told Sky News.

Speaking on The World with Yalda Hakim, Ms Pelosi said "the assassination of Alexei Navalny is a terrible thing to happen".

She described his death as "a calculated assassination timed to coincide with the Munich Security Conference". 

When pressed on her thoughts on the Russian leader, she said "he's just a very evil person". 

"I would hope that there would be a recognition that even when Ukraine wins this war - which they must and we must help them do so - that if Putin's still around, Russia will still have to be dealt with," she said, urging her colleagues to make preparations. 

"We will find a path to send this money," she added, addressing the currently stalled aid package for Ukraine. 

These images come to us from the Luhansk region of Ukraine, where troops are holding a portion of the 1,500km-long (around 930 miles) frontline. 

Servicemen are seen loading shells into a tank. 

This comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated calls for more weapons and ammunition, after he claimed Russia was capitalising on Western inaction. 

Canada will donate more than 800 drones to Ukraine, according to the country's defence minister. 

Drones have dominated the conflict, which is set to enter its third year at the weekend. 

The SkyRanger R70 multi-mission Unmanned Aerial Systems were sourced from Ontario and have been valued at over £55m, Bill Blair said.

"Today's announcement ensures that Ukraine has the drones it needs to detect and identify targets which are critical to Ukraine's ongoing fight. Canada will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes," he said. 

This footage, released by Ukraine's armed forces, shows the bitter battle for the city of Avdiivka - which has fallen into Russian hands. 

The four-month fight has been one of the bloodiest of the war so far - earning it comparisons with the battles for Bakhmut and Mariupol. 

It's not clear when exactly the footage was filmed. 

Political assassinations in Vladimir Putin's Russia are "nothing new" and the death of Alexei Navalny is not likely to have a defining influence on hardline Republicans holding up an aid package for Ukraine, according to the former US ambassador to NATO.

Kurt Volker told Sky News: "We knew it was a brutal regime, we knew that he tried to kill [Mr Navalny] before with novichok [in 2020].

"We knew that he had him in a prison system where he was deliberately put into situations that would damage his health - nothing here is new." 

Because of that, he said, Republicans holding up a massive military aid bill for Ukraine were not likely to change their minds because of his death - and that without it, the consequences could be disastrous for Europe and NATO. 

"If [Putin is] allowed to actually defeat Ukraine, he will regroup and he will move on - I think we'll see hybrid attacks on NATO member states to see how we would respond to that."

The hardline Republicans are heavily influenced by Donald Trump, who is opposing the bill that would see some $95bn (£75bn) distributed between Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. 

The former US president seems to be trying hard "to not make [Ukraine] the topic of conservation", Mr Volker said. 

"He's trying to keep the conversation squarely on the southern border, because he sees that as an issue in which he and the Republicans have an advantage going into the elections," he added. 

Russia is exploiting the lack of aid from the West, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

"There is now an extremely difficult situation in several parts of the frontline, precisely where Russian troops have concentrated maximum reserves," Mr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address after a visit to frontline areas in northeast Ukraine earlier today. 

"They are taking advantage of delays in aid to Ukraine and this is a very sensitive matter - artillery shortages, the need for frontline air defence and for longer-range weapons."

This comes as a $95bn (£75bn) military aid package for Ukraine, Israel and others continues to be held up in the US, where hardline Republicans seek to frustrate the Biden administration and direct that funding towards tackling what they view as an immigration crisis on the country's southern border. 

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papal visits to uk


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