20 FEBRUARY 2009

Since Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534 there has only been one papal visit to England - that made by John Paul II in 1982. Now there's the possibility of another one on the cards after Gordon Brown invited the current pontiff to Britain when they met up in Rome this week.

"I said that many millions of people would not only welcome his visit but that it would be a great moment for our whole country," said Mr Brown, who has a good relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, whom he has met twice before.

The Vatican said the Catholic leader was "very happy to be asked", with his spokesperson adding: "He has a programme of visits ahead of him to other countries, but he will see when it can be arranged".

Mr Brown, who was accompanied on the trip by his wife Sarah, also visited Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at Rome's grand Villa Madama. The stately mansion which nestles amid the lower slopes of Monte Mario a few miles north of the Vatican is reserved for receiving international guests.

Photo: Getty Images
The British leader extended the invitation to the head of the Catholic church when the two met at the Vatican this week to discuss the economic crisis
Photo: Getty Images
"I said that many millions of people would… welcome his visit," revealed Mr Brown, who has met Pope Benedict XVI three times
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