On Friday afternoon, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visited His Grace Archbishop Rowan Williams at the Archbishop's London home, Lambeth Palace. Together they addressed a meeting of Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishops from England, Scotland and Wales in the Great Hall of the Archbishop's Library.
Recalling fifty years of significant meetings between successive popes and archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Williams welcomed Pope Benedict to Lambeth Palace before leading the bishops in an opening prayer.
In his address to the bishops, Dr Williams stressed the wider spiritual and missionary context in which ecumenical dialogue and growth in unity must take place. He spoke of the historic visit as "a special time of grace and of growth in our shared calling", and expressed the hope that the occasion would be recognised as having "significance both to the Church of Christ and to British society".
On the topic of the common duty of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to engage in mission to our society, he said, "Our presence together as British bishops here today is a sign of the way in which, in this country, we see our task as one and indivisible. Our fervent prayer is that this visit will give us fresh energy and vision for working together."
"Today, this involves a readiness to respond to the various trends in our cultural environment that seek to present Christian faith as both an obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect. We need to be clear that the Gospel of the new creation in Jesus Christ is the door through which we enter into true liberty and true understanding."
"Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion; but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness – by prayer and public celebration together, by closer friendship, and by growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made."
In his address, recalling how Archbishop Williams had mentioned the historic meeting thirty years ago between Pope John Paul II and Robert Runcie, then archbishop of Canterbury, Benedict XVI noted that, despite "the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter", in the forty years since the inception of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission there has been "remarkable progress ... in so many areas of dialogue".
"The context in which dialogue takes place between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church has evolved in dramatic ways since the private meeting between Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in 1960", said Pope Benedict. "On the one hand, the surrounding culture is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment. On the other hand, the increasingly multicultural dimension of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportunity to encounter other religions. For us Christians this opens up the possibility of exploring, together with members of other religious traditions, ways of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness. ...Ecumenical co-operation in this task remains essential, and will surely bear fruit in promoting peace and harmony in a world that so often seems at risk of fragmentation.
"At the same time", he added, "we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ, and to explore together a deeper understanding of the means He has placed at our disposal for attaining that salvation. God 'wants all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth', and that truth is nothing other than Jesus Christ. ... In fidelity to the Lord's will, ... we recognise that the Church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth. Herein lies the dilemma facing all who are genuinely committed to the ecumenical journey".
In this context, the Pope mentioned Cardinal John Henry Newman, "whose ecclesial vision was nurtured by his Anglican background and matured during his many years of ordained ministry in the Church of England. He can teach us the virtues that ecumenism demands: on the one hand, he was moved to follow his conscience, even at great personal cost; and on the other hand, the warmth of his continued friendship with his former colleagues, led him to explore with them ... the questions on which they differed, driven by a deep longing for unity in faith".
"In that same spirit of friendship", Pope Benedict concluded, "let us renew our determination to pursue the goal of unity in faith, hope, and love, in accordance with the will of our one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ".
Pope Benedict and the Archbishop and the Pope exchanged gifts. The Archbishop gave the Pope a leather-bound diptych of facsimiles of full-page illuminations from the twelfth-century Lambeth Bible (details below and photograph available on request). The Pope gave the Archbishop a copy of the Codex Pauli (produced to celebrate the bi-millenium of the birth of St Paul 2008—9).
The meeting ended with Pope Benedict leading the bishops in the Lord's Prayer and a concluding prayer.
The Archbishop and Mrs Jane Williams then welcomed Pope Benedict into their home, where the Archbishop and the Pope spent half an hour in private discussion before viewing a small selection of the treasures from the Lambeth Palace Library.
This was the first time in history that a pope had visited Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury's official London residence, Pope John Paul II having visited Archbishop Robert Runcie in Canterbury in 1982.
Given below is the text of a joint English-language communique concerning the meeting.
"Fifty years after the first meeting of a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times - that of Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, in December 1960 - Pope Benedict XVI paid a fraternal visit to Archbishop Rowan Williams.
"In the first part of their meeting they both addressed the Anglican and Roman Catholic diocesan bishops of England, Scotland and Wales, in the Great Hall of the archbishop's library, before moving to a private meeting.
"In the course of their private conversation, they addressed many of the issues of mutual concern to Anglicans and Roman Catholics. They affirmed the need to proclaim the Gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ, both in a reasoned and convincing way in the contemporary context of profound cultural and social transformation, and in lives of holiness and transparency to God. They agreed on the importance of improving ecumenical relations and continuing theological dialogue in the face of new challenges to unity from within the Christian community and beyond it.
"The Holy Father and the Archbishop reaffirmed the importance of continuing theological dialogue on the notion of the Church as communion, local and universal, and the implications of this concept for the discernment of ethical teaching.
"They reflected together on the serious and difficult situation of Christians in the Middle East, and called upon all Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters and support their continued peaceful witness in the Holy Land. In the light of their recent public interventions, they also discussed the need to promote a courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace, especially the needs of the poor, urging international leadership to fight hunger and disease.
After the meeting with the archbishop of Canterbury, Benedict XVI travelled to Westminster Hall where he gave an address to church leaders and politicians. To read the text of Pope Benedict's address, see: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=16744
Source: Vis/Archbishop of Canterbury