A papal journey, even to the most secular of countries, sure gets people talking, thinking, and arguing about religion. My on-the-spot research for this column began in Scotland on the day Benedict XVI arrived for the first state visit of a pope to Britain since the Reformation.
As I watched his Popemobile progress through the streets of Edinburgh, the noises off included Protestant troublemakers in the crowd chanting "down with old red socks" and "Nope to the pope," while Richard Dawkins on the radio was advising His Holiness, "Go home to your tin pot Mussolini-concocted principality and don't come back." But aside from such occasional rudeness, the general public's response to the pope was increasingly receptive. He made a deep impact with a series of challenging speeches delivered against the setting of Britain's most historic buildings yet aimed at a far wider international audience.