Pope John Paul II Visit to Scotland, June 1982

21 – Papal visit

May 31 -June 2, 1982

THE Pope’s visit to Scotland wasn’t so much a moment as a series of unforgettable events.

Pope John Pauls II’s stay was the first time a Pope had been to the UK in more than 400 years – and how Scotland’s Catholic community rejoiced.

There was a celebratory mood across Scotland from people of all faiths and none, who recognised that John Paul II was a man of peace.

His warm Scottish welcome was assured. The Pope visited seven venues in Scotland.

Crowds lined the streets he travelled through in his “Popemobile”, eager to catch a glimpse of one of the most popular pontiffs of modern times.

The Pope’s address to young people in Edinburgh was viewed by some as a warm-up to the main event a day later at Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Around 45,000 young people packed into Murrayfield Stadium.

They sang You’ll Never Walk Alone and greeted the Pope with the kind of ecstatic welcome that is usually reserved for the likes of band-of-the-moment Duran Duran, with some describing it as the best day of their lives.

The next day, in blisteringly hot sun, the Pope addressed 300,000 people at Bellahouston Park.

POPE JOHN PAUL II GREETS THE CROWDS AT BELLAHOUSTON PARK (PA ARCHIVE)
POPE JOHN PAUL II GREETS THE CROWDS AT BELLAHOUSTON PARK (PA ARCHIVE)

It was the biggest crowd ever assembled in Scotland and it was a family affair.

As if to emphasise that point, one woman went into labour while she was there!

And 12-year-old Paul Buchanan, of King’s Park, swapped a daisy chain for a Papal medallion.

It was an emotional time for many in that throng and the Pope responded to the crowd’s adulation by renewing the Catholic Church’s old title for Scotland – Special Daughter.

It moved many to tears.

The huge crowd looks skyward as the helicopter carrying Pope John Paul II arrives at Bellahouston Park
The huge crowd looks skyward as the helicopter carrying Pope John Paul II arrives at Bellahouston Park (PA Archive)

Months earlier, Boghall and Bathgate Pipe Band had been invited by St Joseph’s Hospital, Midlothian, to play for the Pope.

Bob Martin was the pipe major and spent weeks sourcing the national anthem of Pope John Paul II’s country of birth, Poland, and then translating it to pipe music.

His hard work was worth it as the Pope was visibly moved when Bob and his band – 21 out of 22 of them non-Catholic – played their note-perfect version of Mazurek Dabrowskiego.

For the hundreds of thousands who were touched by the Pope’s visit, the memory lingers on more than 30 years later.

During the follow-up visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 the welcome he was given was equally warm, though the reaction was more low-key.

This time, 70,000 attended an open-air Mass in Bellahouston Park.

Hundreds of people were gathered by 2pm, with the Pope not due to appear until 5pm.

It might not have garnered quite the same number of headlines as Pope John Paul II’s visit, but for those who were there it was magical all the same.