Scotland, rightly declared Alex Salmond, has done the Pope proud; he added, also truly, that Scotland had “done itself proud”, too. And that was while the Pope was still in Edinburgh, before that great and wonderful Carnival of the Faith at Bellahouston park.
Would the first day have been the success it was if it had taken place in England? Would the papal chemistry have worked so soon in London, that vast and engulfing megalopolis, if the reception by Her Majesty had taken place in the impersonal splendours of Buckingham palace rather than in that ancient architectural wonder Holyrood house (whose very stones are a testimony to its Catholic origins) and if the Popemobile ride through the streets afterwards had been down the Mall?
I just don’t know: but that magnificent city Edinburgh was somehow on just the right scale. Halfway down Princes Street, it was clear that all the last minute attempts to wreck the visit had failed; the sheer warmth of that Scottish welcome had swept all that away. There were some splendid touches; Cardinal O’Brien’s production of a load of scarves in the specially commissioned Papal tartan was a brilliant idea, as was the very notion of a Papal tartan; and to drape a scarf over the Pope’s shoulders, so that he rode through the streets clad in tartan (the wearing of which, remember, was made illegal after the final defeat of attempts to place a Catholic pretender on the throne) was a stroke of historical genius.
Part of the success of the day, it has to be said, was that the BBC was at its excellent best (and not at its infuriating worst). As Stuart Reid wrote in his blog yesterday: “Jim Naughtie on the Today programme this morning was almost Dimblebyian in his gravity and respect.” The same was true later in the day, with his coverage of the meeting of the Pope and the Queen (who as always rose wonderfully to the occasion); and while we are about it, Peter Stanford, who was regally seated with other experts at Holyrood to give his views from time to time, also did us all proud, and as a fellow holder of that hallowed title “former editor of The Catholic Herald” I salute his statesmanlike performance.
I was right, though, in my rather anxious blog yesterday (written when the Pope was still on his way to Edinburgh). I repeated my belief that all the media attempts to “overshadow” the visit would be swept away by the visit itself, but said that it was clear that they would continue. I was right: the Guardian and the Independent are still at it (the latter organ even described the Pope’s visit as “Mission Improbable” this morning: what planet do these people live on?).
But somehow, the anti-Catholic campaign has lost its power to distort and to dismay. The things that do matter about the Church have come firmly to the fore. The papal chemistry is still active; the Pope’s huge integrity and the great sweetness of his gentle but powerful personality have established themselves in the minds of anyone who has spent five minutes watching the coverage; the rock which is Peter has emerged clearly from the fog, firm in all its ancient splendour: and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.