THE APPROACHES to Buckingham Palace are quite accustomed to the flurry and excitement that attends the arrival of visitors to the Queen, and the crowds that assemble there, growing larger at this time of year, are delighted to have a bonus, something beyond the routine changing of the guard. The grandest such occasions are, of course, the arrivals of Heads of State on State visits, which, in spite of the growing number of independent states in the world, are really quite rare. There are also official visits by Heads of State which sometimes include a call on the Queen, but these involve much less pomp and circumstance. The Pope's visit to the Queen in the early afternoon of Friday, May 28, will be something not quite like either. Indeed, it will be unique, because, as everyone knows by now, never before in history, even when England was a Catholic country, has a Pope been there during his pontificate. There seems little doubt that the crowds along the way at least, and certainly the security precautions, will be very considerable. In essence, though, Pope John Paul's visit to the Queen will be relatively a quiet affair. It is most certainly not a State Visit, so there will be no protocol requirement for any of the impressive trimmings. It does not even amount to an official visit, because, as has been stressed all round, and certainly by both the Palace and the Catholic hierarchy, the Pope will be here as a pastor, at the invitation of the approximately five million Catholics who are among the Queen's subjects, principally to see and be seen by them, to talk to them, and to pray with them. He will be going to see the Queen, their temporal sovereign, as a matter of proper courtesy, because he is a Head of State visiting her country, and she has invited him to call.
Thus far, of course, it all sounds rather starchy, and such visits can be that. But the truth is quite otherwise. The Queen and the Pope have met before, and it is known that they liked each other. She and the Duke of Edinburgh went to see him at the Vatican in October, 1980, and at first there was a bit of starch there, because Vatican protocol for the reception of a Head of State tends to be stiff, and fills about sixteen pages of instructions.
But the private conversation to which all the splendid nonsense led was very friendly indeed. It is not difficult to discover at the Vatican that the Queen is much admired there for her championing of Christian values, as well as for the evident sincerity of her Christian practice. The Queen's high regard for the Pope as a great Christian leader, outstandingly fitted to his office, is also well known. She is said, too, to have been charmed by his warm personality when they met.
The mere mechanics of what will happen when the Pope goes to Buckingham Palace are still not finally decided. But I understand that he will be -met and greeted by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Palace's Grand Entrance. This is something not normally seen by the general public, a broad portal above a shallow flight of wide steps, beyond the facade of the Palace that is shown in all the pictures of it. It is not yet known who is likely to arrive with the Pope. It seems probable that his pro-Nuncio, Archbishop Heim — accredited now to the Court of St James, and not merely the Pope's official representative with Britain's Catholic community — would be there as a matter of protocol; and it could be that Cardinal Hume will be present.
The Duke will lead the Pope to one of the audience chambers on the ground floor. It is not yet certain which of them will be used, but likely candidates are three rather elegant rooms, the so-called 1844 room, the Caernarvon room, and the Bow room.
In whichever of these is chosen he will be greeted by the -Queen. Then there will be informal conversation, probably lasting about half an hour. It is known that the Queen's first idea was to ask the Pope to take luncheon with her, but it seems this is not his usual practice when visiting as Head of State. The atmosphere will be that of a friendly chat, and it is quite likely that other members of the royal family may be present, including the Prince of Wales.
When the Pope leaves, the Queen will walk with him to the Grand Entrance, where he will rejoin those who accompanied him and go on to his next engagement.