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Baroness Warsi was at the Vatican to watch Pope Francis become head of the Catholic Church.
Britain’s Minister for Faith had the honour of representing the UK government at the new Pope’s inauguration at the Vatican on Tuesday 19 March 2013, alongside the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Kenneth Clarke MP.
In a packed St Peter’s Square, the delegation took their place alongside the world’s dignitaries to watch Pope Francis formally become head of the Catholic Church - which has 1.2 billion followers worldwide, including 6 million people in the UK.
Baroness Warsi said:
“It was a true privilege to be part of such a historic event and to witness up-close this very spiritual moment.
“I was heartened to be surrounded by so many people, of so many different faiths. It goes to show the importance the Catholic Church and their new Pope place on their relationship with other faiths. As I looked out into the crowd, I saw flags from so many nations – showing the true global reach of the church.
“Pope Francis already showed how down to earth he was in his first few days as pontiff. He cemented his reputation as a pope of the people at his inaugural Mass when he mingled with the crowds. His homily, calling upon everyone to protect the poor, provided a universal message, to people of all faiths and none.”
Baroness Warsi last visited the Vatican in February 2012, when she led the largest ever ministerial delegation to the Holy See. The historic visit included a private audience with Pope Benedict, during which she presented him with a copy of the Qur’an, translated by Muhammad Asad, and a piece of Islamic art – a cube sculpture representing the 99 names of Allah.
In her speech she urged Europe to strengthen its religious identity, arguing that Britain’s strong sense of Christianity enabled her to feel comfortable growing up as a Muslim in the north of England. The visit strengthened the relationship between the 2 states, whose ties date back to 1479.
Baroness Warsi added:
“During Pope Benedict’s pontificate, Britain and the Holy See became closer than ever, thanks to his landmark visit to the UK in 2010 and our reciprocal visit in 2012.
“I am certain that under Pope Francis we can continue to build upon that relationship and make it even stronger – especially next year, when we celebrate the centenary of the restoration of our ties with the Holy See.”