Pope records special Christmas message for UK - report
LONDON (Reuters) - Pope Benedict has recorded a Christmas message specially 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 programme "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 programme 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 website.
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.
The National Secular Society said the BBC had "disgraced itself" by offering the pope a platform.
"(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.
"Benedict needs to answer hard questions. So what does the BBC do? It invites him on to its propaganda platform and gives him free rein."
(Writing by Avril Ormsby; editing by Tim Pearce)
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