Pope Benedict XVI has recorded a Christmas message especially for Britain following his successful state visit to the country in September, the BBC said on Wednesday.
It is the first time the pope has addressed a Christmas message specifically to one of the countries visited during the year, the state-funded broadcaster said.
The recording will be broadcast on Christmas Eve in the “Thought for the Day” slot on the Radio 4 current affairs program Today.
The pope, the global head of the Roman Catholic Church, visited Scotland and England for four days in September, drawing large crowds, but also opposition from secular groups.
In the recording, made at the Vatican, he will speak of his great fondness for Britain and will ask listeners to think of the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ, the BBC said.
“Thought for the Day” lasts about three minutes and has a regular place on the morning program broadcast Monday to Saturday. It offers a personal perspective, from leaders of a variety of religious denominations, on topical issues.
“It’s significant that the pope has chosen ‘Thought for the Day’ to give his first personally scripted broadcast and what better time to do so than on the eve of the biggest celebration on the Christian calendar,” Gwyneth Williams, controller of BBC Radio 4, said on the broadcaster’s Web site.
The pope’s visit to Britain, the first ever official papal visit to the country, was deemed a success despite a backdrop of a global sex-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church and hostility from one of Europe’s most secular nations.
Human rights campaigners, pro-gay groups, supporters of women’s ordination and secularists demonstrated in London during an anti-pope march.
The Catholic Church’s relations with the Church of England have also been tense since the pope offered Anglicans opposed to their church’s ordination of women and other liberal tendencies the chance to convert to Rome while keeping some of their traditions.