Pope Benedict XVI may visit UK at end 2009

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London, Mar.15 (ANI): German-born pontiff Benedict XVI will make his first papal visit to Britain soon. The historic visit will take place nearly three decades after the last visit by a pope.

It is understood that the historic event is being timed to coincide with the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who is on the path to becoming the first British saint for 40 years.

Details of the visit, which will attract crowds of hundreds of thousands of people, are still under discussion, but cities being considered include London, Birmingham, Oxford, Edinburgh, Armagh and Dublin.

A senior cardinal is due to make a private trip to Britain in the summer to make preparations for the Pope's visit, which could be announced by the end of this year.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales will hope that such an event will capture the imagination of the country's four million Catholics, of whom only a quarter now regularly attend Mass.

It could also provide a boost to Gordon Brown with a general election in the same year.

At the same time, the Government has embarked on a major diplomatic mission in an attempt to change the long-standing law banning Catholics from succeeding to the throne.

Sources close to Gordon Brown said that controversial plans to reform the 1701 Act of Settlement are "very much alive" - despite official statements to the contrary.

There has been heightened speculation over the possibility of a Papal visit following extensive lobbying by the Government in recent years.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have each extended two invitations since 2007.

Prince Charles is expected to add further momentum to Britain's bid to secure what would be only the second visit by a Pope since Henry VIII broke with Rome to establish the Church of England in 1534.

Relations between the Catholic Church and the Government have been strained following clashes over the introduction of laws enforcing homosexual equality and the Embryo Bill, which paved the way for the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.

However, secret talks began between the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Vatican shortly after Pope Benedict's election in 2005, long before Gordon Brown's private audience last month. (ANI)

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