Pope Benedict XVI today promised to pray for young people when he visited Twickenham on the first official trip to the UK by a serving pontiff since 1982.

The ruler of the Roman Catholic Church, who arrived in Britain yesterday for a four-day visit, attended an assembly of 3,500 schoolchildren at St Mary's University College and vowed to pray for those in the audience.

The Pope told the crowds: “I promise to pray for you, and I ask you to pray for me.”

During the historic visit he also expressed hope the Big Assembly audience could include some future saints.

He said: “I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the 21st century.

“What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy."

He added: “When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best."

The papal visit drew crowds of people to St Mary’s for the first public address of the Pope’s tour of the UK.

Swarms of children, lucky enough to get a ticket to the invite-only event, started arriving at the college an hour before the pontiff arrived.

Entering through security scanners and making their way to the sports field, they stood practising singing and dancing in anticipation of the big event.

Theresa Mortlock, nine, who attends St Elizabeth’s Primary School, Richmond, said she was shocked when she heard she had been chosen to represent the school.

She said: “I couldn’t believe it, I was telling everyone. My nanny is a Catholic and is really excited.”

Twelve-year-old Peter Dean, from St Benedict’s School, in Ealing, added: “We left at 6.45am but I’m really excited.

"We’ve been learning a bit about the Pope in preparation of the visit.”

Those without tickets lined Waldegrave Road, greeting the Pope with a mix of cheers - and others with chants of protest - when he arrived at about 10.20am.

On arrival, the Pope spent 15 minutes in the St Mary’s chapel praying with 300 selected guests, ahead of his grand entrance to the university playing fields in the Popemobile.

Sister Natalia Gomes, a missionary from St Mary’s convent in Chiswick, prayed with the pontiff in the chapel.

She said: “I enjoyed it. I have seen him and sat close to him - it was very meaningful.”

After praying, the Pope took to the stage and paid tribute to the "outstanding contribution" of those who devote their lives to education and teaching.

Referring to education as being about "forming a human person" and allowing that person to "live life to the full", he praised those who helped provide safe environments in which children could learn.

During the service he also accepted gifts of books from children from England, Scotland and Wales and presents from Holy Cross School in Plymouth and their twin school in Gambia.

Other proceedings included the inauguration of the university college's sports institute, and group prayers read by representatives of different schools.

Richmond Council leader Nick True described it as a wonderful day for the borough.

He said: "It's a good day and a great honour for Richmond that the Pope has made his first stop in England here."

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Don't miss next week's Richmond and Twickenham Times, which will include an eight-page supplement with full reports and pictures from the Papal visit.