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Pope John Paul II kneeling at prayer with Dr Robert Runcie

On this day, the city received a very special visitor

John Paul II was the first Pope to do many things.

He was the first Pole to become pontiff, the first non-Italian pope since the Dutchman Adrian VI in the early 16th century, and the first reigning pope to travel to the United Kingdom.

It was on that visit in the summer of 1982 that 25,000 people took to the streets this very day 36 years ago to catch a glimpse of John Paul II.

Hundreds of schoolchildren, many of them waving plastic version of the Vatican City flag, lined the Rheims Way in bright sunshine.

The Pope was driven past them in his famous Popemobile, the vehicle with glass box at the back which allowed people to see him while also offering protection following assassination attempt in Rome the previous year.

Pope John Paul II visited Canterbury in 1982

John Paul visited Canterbury Cathedral where he was received by then Archbishop Robert Runcie.

They knelt in prayer together and the Pope – who made strenuous efforts to bolster the Catholic Church’s relations with other churches and religions – delivered a homily to the congregation.

Quoting heavily from the Bible, the Pope said: “On this first visit of a Pope to Canterbury, I come to you in love – the love of Peter to whom the Lord said ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren’.

“I come to you also in the love of Gregory, who sent Saint Augustine to this place to give the Lord’s flock a shepherd’s care.

“Just as every minister of the Gospel must do, so today I echo the words of the Master: ‘I am among you as one who serves’.

“With me I bring to you, beloved brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion, the hopes and the desires, the prayers and goodwill of all who are united with the Church of Rome, which from earliest times was said to ‘preside in love’.”

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