London: 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
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
"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
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
"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."