Benedict XVI leaves Italy on an Alitalia flight bound for Edinburgh

Pope Benedict XVI has just left Rome for the first state visit to Britain by a Pope, on a three-hour flight that is due to arrive at Edinburgh International Airport at 10.30am local time.

The Pope is flying with Italian air company Alitalia, rather than using British Airways, in a plane code-named “Shepherd One”, in imitation of the US President’s “Air Force One”.

Travelling with the Pope are Fr Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State, Mgr George Gänswein, the Pope’s personal secretary, Mgr Guido Marini, the papal master of ceremonies, Archbishop Kurt Koch, the new head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and more than 20 other officials. Another 70 accredited reporters are also on the plane, sitting in coach class.

Following his arrival, the Holy Father will be officially greeted at the airport by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, and taken to Holyroodhouse Palace, where he will be welcomed by Her Majesty the Queen at 11am. At 11:40am, there will then be the state reception in the grounds of Holyroodhouse, at which both Her Majesty and the Holy Father will give speeches.

This is followed by a private lunch with the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh at 1pm, and then Mass at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, at 17.15pm.

The Holy Father will then leave from Glasgow Airport at 8pm tonight, arriving at Heathrow about an hour and a half later, in preparation for the events planned for Friday.