'The Pope made me feel I was the only person in the world...'

Glasgow City Council leader GORDON MATHESON looks back on the day the pontiff visited the city

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SEPTEMBER 16, 2010 was no ordinary day. The Pope was coming to town.

I left home for the City Chambers for breakfast media-interviews about the significance of the day for Glasgow.

I remember walking through George Square, which was bedecked in yellow and white flowers, the colours of the Vatican flag above the Chambers.

It was chilly but bright and sunny - a relief given that the highlight of the day was an open-air Mass in Bellahouston Park.

Prior to that, I travelled to Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh for the official State welcome by the Queen.

After formal speeches, I was introduced to the Pope, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

To be introduced to all three within a five-minute period was an extraordinary privilege.

I travelled back through to Glasgow and headed to Bellahouston Park.

As we approached, the sense of sheer joy was palpable among the thousands of pilgrims.

Groups sang songs and hymns, waved flags and greeted all around them.

Shortly before the Pope arrived, I accompanied the Lord and Lady Provost and Archbishop Mario Conti to a tented enclosure where the Popemobile was waiting.

As the welcoming-party was lined-up, we could see the police outriders approaching, followed by the heart-stopping moment when the Pope's car swept in.

The Pope was then introduced to each of us in turn by the Archbishop. Pope Benedict clasped both of my hands in his, smiled warmly and looked straight into my eyes.

For that moment, the Pope made me feel like I was the only person in the world.

I thanked him for coming to Glasgow and said we were all looking forward to the Mass.

He acknowledged my role as leader of the council and thanked me for all of the work the council had done in preparing for the day.

The Mass was solemn and joyful at the same time.

Tens of thousands of people who were present were left with memories that will last a lifetime.

Television coverage of the Bellahouston Mass was seen by more than 1billion people worldwide and Glasgow was universally regarded as having set the tone for a hugely successful state visit to the UK.

My heart was full with joy and pride when I was presented to the Pope for the third time that day, as he took his leave of Glasgow.

News of Pope Benedict's resignation came as a shock to the world.

No-one will doubt the prayerful seriousness with which he made his lonely decision.

Catholics, and all people of goodwill, will wish him serenity in his retirement.

As for Glaswegians, we'll be forever grateful that he spent time among us on that sunny September day in 2010 - a day we'll never forget.

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