Pope Benedict XVI was greeted warmly at Lambeth Palace this afternoon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, before both gave addresses on the subject of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United Kingdom.
The Pope and the Archbishop both spoke of the shared mission of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in the UK, both praising the developments in Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenism in recent years.
After a heartfelt greeting, in which the Pope and Archbishop Williams kissed cheeks and embraced, Dr Williams opened with a speech praising Pope Benedict’s “consistent and penetrating analysis of the state of European society”, and said this analysis “has been a major contribution to public debate on relations between Church and culture”.
Archbishop Williams said that the presence of both Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in Lambeth Palace “is a sign of the way in which, in this country, we see our task as one and indivisible” referring to cooperation between the two churches in the UK.
“We do not as churches seek political power or contro, or the dominance of Christian faith in the public sphere, but the opportunity to… play our part in the public debates of our societies”, he added.
Following Archbishop Williams’ speech, the Pope then thanked Dr Williams, saying that it was “a pleasure… to be able to return the courtesy of the visits you have made to me in Rome by a fraternal visit to you here in your official residence”.
The Holy Father said: “It is not my intention today to speak of the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter. Those difficulties are well known to everyone here. Rather, I wish to join you in giving thanks for the deep friendship that has grown between us and for the forty years that have elapsed since the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission began its work.”
The dialogue 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”, Pope Benedict said.
The Pope also reiterated a key theme of this Papal Visit, saying that European culture “is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment”, and that “the increasingly multicultural dimension of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportunity to encounter other religions”.
The Holy Father also emphasised the importance of “ecumenical cooperation” which he said “remains essential, and will surely bear fruit in promoting peace and harmony in a world that so often seems at risk of fragmentation”, but said that while “we recognise that the Church is called to be inclusive”, this must not be “at the expense of Christian truth”, which is “the dilemma facing all who are genuinely committed to the ecumenical journey.”
Referring to Cardinal Newman, who he will beatify on Sunday, the Holy Father said that he was “a churchman whose ecclesial vision was nurtured by his Anglican background and matured during his many years of ordained ministry” in that church, adding that his example “can teach us the virtues that ecumenism demands”.
The Holy Father finished by asking that both Churches “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”, ending with a quotation from the second letter to the Corinthians: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Subsequent to the meeting, the Pope and the Archbishop issued the following joint statement.
JOINT COMMUNIQUÉ CONCERNING THE MEETING BETWEEN THE HOLY FATHER AND THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Friday 17 September, Lambeth Palace
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.
Following their meeting they travelled together to the Palace of Westminster and to Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey.