A unique moment in history ¦that was how Scotland's most senior politicians described their audience with Pop John Paul yesterday on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Scots College in Rome.
First Minister Henry McLeish joined Scottish Secretary John Reid at a special Papal audience in the Vatican and were introduced to the Pope by Cardinal Winning.
The lords Provost of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen were also present for the special event - one of a series being held in Rome this week to mark the College's anniversary.
Cardinal Winning said: "Today's events are full of significance. I think of the contrast between the Scotland of 1600 and the Scotland of today. Then the Scottish Parliament had outlawed the Catholic Church. Today we are privileged to welcome the First Minister of the new Scottish Parliament, as well as the Scottish Secretary representing the British Government.
"I consider the Scots College in Rome to be the most important institution in the Scottish Catholic Church. Because when the Church was outlawed, Pope Clement VIII threw a lifeline to our beleaguered people by setting up a very humble centre in Rome to train priests for the home mission. Over the years the ministry of those priests has helped keep the faith alive in Scotland.
"I see the presence today of our First Minister and Scottish Secretary as a sign of the new era of co-operation which marks our time. It is wonderful that they could both be here. It reminds all of us of how far the Catholic community has come over the centuries until today when we can play a full and active part in the life of the nation."
The Pope himself also spoke of Scotland's "glorious inheritance" of the Scots College in Rome and of how he urged the current students of the college to find inspiration in the example of their forebears.
He said, "You originate in a glorious past, may you live up to that past, and go on to build on your priceless heritage"
This was a view echoed by both Henry McLeish and by John Reid. Mr. Reid expressed his personal pleasure and privilege that, as a Catholic, he was in Rome meeting the Pope as a representative of the British Government.
Henry McLeish said, "In my first trip abroad as First Minister it is a great honor to meet the Holy Father, and to be representing not only the Scottish Parliament, but all the major cities of Scotland.
"Today was about how we want Scotland to be working together, all in all against the background of the history of the Scots College over the last 400 years.
"Pope John Paul is a wonderful man, irrespective of what your religious views may be. He is a great champion of the poor, human rights, and world peace."
Tomorrow, the Mediator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Andrew McLellan, and his wife Irene, will join the politicians, Cardinal and Bishops for a special Mass being held 400 years to the day of the foundation of the college by Pope Clement VIII.
5th December 2000