Pope's Plea to Save Christmas; Benedict Condemns Non-Religious PC Festivals

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Byline: Nick Pisa and Ross Lydall

THE Pope today condemned Britain's "politically correct" culture for reducing the significance of Christmas and other religious festivals.

In a major speech in Westminster Hall, he was expected to make a plea for the country to return to its traditional Christian beliefs. Vatican insiders told the Evening Standard his speech, in front of the last four prime ministers, will be one of his most important since he became pontiff five years ago.

Pope Benedict, who this morning received a pop star-style welcome from thousands of schoolchildren in Twickenham, was expected to speak on the importance of religion in society as he seeks to restore Christianity across Europe.

As well as making a veiled attack on same-sex marriages and gay adoption, the Standard understands he is concerned about the "marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity". The Pope was expected to attack the growing belief that faith should be kept quiet, private and not mentioned in public for fear of causing offence.

He is also concerned that Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas are "discouraged" or replaced with alternatives, sometimes dubbed the "Winterval", while Christians in public roles, such as politicians, are forced to go against their personal beliefs.

Benedict, 83, who will lead a prayer vigil in Hyde Park tomorrow, will refer to the "legitimate role of religion in the public square". Today's address in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, will be attended by Baroness Thatcher, Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The venue is highly significant as the Pope will speak close to the spot where St Thomas More, one of Catholicism's key saints, was tried and condemned in 1535. More was executed for refusing to accept Henry VIII's insistence that he should join him in asking the Pope to grant him an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. …