The Vatican took on a Scottish theme on Monday with a series of celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the Scots College in Rome. During the day, Scottish first minister Henry McLeish and Secretary of State for Scotland Dr John Reid had a special audience with the Pope, after which a group of Scottish visitors burst into an impromptu chorus of the Flower of Scotland. That day the Pope also had a larger audience with a group which included Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, several Scottish bishops, students from the college and its rector, Father John McElroy. Mr McLeish said after the meeting: "I extended to the Pope the warm greetings from the people of Scotland, and offered him best wishes for the future." He added: "I am not involved in any organised church or religion. But this was a unique experience for me. It was a tremendous honour to represent my country on the first visit abroad as First Minister." Praising the Pope, he said: "On no less than 92 occasions he has travelled outside of Italy and we all remember his visit to Scotland in 1982. He has travelled with a purpose and it is important to recognise his crusading work over the last quarter of a century to promote world peace and tackle poverty." Mr McLeish said the visit was an indication of Scotland's post-devolution position in Europe: "The very fact that the First Minister of Scotland and His Holiness the Pope are meeting in the Vatican symbolises the developing role that Scotland has in Europe."
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