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Pope Benedict's visit not all sweetness and light

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Pope Benedict's visit not all sweetness and light

Scots bristle at the $19 million price tag for pontiff's quick pop-in at Holyrood Palace

  • Pope Benedict XVI receives the St Ninian's Stone, a gift from Scotland unveiled earlier by First Minister Alex Salmond, at Cardinal O'Brien's residence, Edinburgh.
    Scottish Government/FlickrPope Benedict XVI receives the St Ninian's Stone, a gift from Scotland unveiled earlier by First Minister Alex Salmond, at Cardinal O'Brien's residence, Edinburgh.
  • Police outside Holyrood Palace the day before the Pope's visit.
    Stuart Herbert/FlickrPolice outside Holyrood Palace the day before the Pope's visit.

EDINBURGH, Scotland – In a typical year, the Queen stays in Edinburgh only once for a week. That's in late June or early July, when the rain and cold subside, giving the Scots a glimpse – albeit fleeting – of summer. The week is called Holyrood Week, and for many here, the highlight is the Queen's invitation to 8,000 Scots to join her for a garden party at The Palace of Holyroodhouse.

This year, however, the visit of Pope Benedict XVI brought Queen Elizabeth II back to Edinburgh for a second visit. The event, which featured an official state meeting with the pope at Holyrood before the pope left for Glasgow in the afternoon has been the subject of conversation for some time. After all, the Queen and the pope in a city unaccustomed to regularly hosting either proved intriguing.

And controversial.

The BBC reports that the visit will cost $34 million, of which $19 million will come directly from the British government and the rest from the Vatican. In Scotland, with only about 18 percent of the country of the Catholic faith, some questioned why taxpayers were forced to pay at all for the visit, especially one of which they would not be an integral part.

Beyond that, the Vatican made it clear the pope would not be seeing anyone other than the queen. On its website, it explained clearly that the pope would not address the crowds in Edinburgh, but instead would stay here for only a few hours.

Nonetheless, curious taxpayers assembled along the Ppapal route for a glimpse of the most powerful religious leader in the world. Outside Holyrood, minutes before the pope arrived, a crowd had gathered, cameras and camera phones raised, ready to catch any glimpse of the pope. Just past the gates of the palace, dignitaries stood waiting, a television news robotic arm capturing the scene from its perch above them.

For a Thursday morning, the rest of the Royal Mile was unusually quiet. The Mile is a central tourist and commerce area in Edinburgh and extends from the Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Old Town of Edinburgh down to Holyrood Palace.  If this were an American town, the street would undoubtedly be called "Main Street."

And yet, even with shop doors open wide and much of the street open to cars, the usual crowds were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it was the lack of transportation, with parking restricted by yellow "no parking" and "road closed" signs affixed to street posts warning of a "special event" on Sept. 16, and with the local Lothian Bus routes changed and eliminated for much of the morning.

Or, perhaps Edinburgh, so rarely honored by the likes of the queen or the pope never mind both of them, wanted to see what all the hype was about at the foot of the Royal Mile.

Applause and cheering broke out when – with an hour to noon – the procession of 17 cars accompanying the pope approached Holyrood. One young onlooker in the crowd called out, "I see him!"  He was answered quickly by a woman standing close by who insisted, "No, that's not him."

There was little time to see who was right. Almost as quickly as he came, the pope entered Holyrood and the gates closed behind him.

Only one protester could be seen in the crowd - a boy wearing a shirt reading, "Pope Nope," and holding a sign saying, "Pope's opposition to condoms hurts people." Largely ignored by the crowd, the boy lowered the sign but remained to wait for the pope to emerge again.

The meeting at Holyrood was short. By half past noon, the pope left in the car known worldwide as the Pope Mobile, waving as he passed by. Ten minutes after his exit from the Palace, with the pope headed for lunch and then a trip out of the city to Glasgow, Holyrood was left mostly deserted.

A spectator who had come late and missed the activities stopped a police officer to ask how to see the pope. Go to Glasgow was the reply.

Or wait for His Holiness's next visit.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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