Pope breaks tradition with BBC broadcast

LONDON (Reuters) - Pope Benedict called for people to remember the significance of Christ’s birth in a Christmas message specially recorded for Britons and aired on the BBC on Friday.

Pope Benedict XVI is seen during a recording session for BBC radio's "Thought for the Day" programme, at the Vatican December 24, 2010. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

It was the first time the pope has addressed a Christmas message specifically to one of the countries visited during the year, the BBC said.

The pope recalled his four-day state visit to England and Scotland in September, and told the people of Britain and every part of the English-speaking world that they were in his prayers in the Holy season.

The recording was broadcast in the “Thought for the Day” slot on the Radio 4 current affairs program “Today.”

The slot 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.

“God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them,” the Pope said in the message pre-recorded at the Vatican.

“Let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down. He gives us hope, he brings us life.”

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. The pope did not refer to sex abuse in his broadcast.

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.

The National Secular Society described the pope’s broadcast as a slap in the face because it gave him access to the “unquestioned, unchallengeable Thought for the Day slot.”

“(It) may be a coup for the BBC, but it is a slap in the face for the thousands of clerical abuse victims who are still waiting for justice,” it said on its website.

Editing by Steve Addison