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GREAT BRITAIN: Benedict becomes first pope to visit Lambeth, Westminster Abbey

[Episcopal News Service] Pope Benedict XVI's four-day visit to Great Britain is taking place in a mix of pageantry, prayer, protest and the intrusion of terrorist threats.

In a history-making visit, the pope met with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop's London residence and office, before attending a 6:15 p.m. service of Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey. While successive archbishops of Canterbury and popes have met for the last 50 years, this was the first time in history that a pope had visited Lambeth Palace or Westminster Abbey.

At the archbishop's residence, the two addressed a meeting of Anglican and Roman Catholic diocesan bishops from England, Scotland and Wales in the Great Hall of the archbishop's library, according to a news release here, which includes the text of Williams' remarks.

"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," Williams said.

During his remarks, Benedict said that "the surrounding culture is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment," but he said that "the increasingly multicultural dimension of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportunity to encounter other religions."

In that encounter, he said, Christians can explore "ways of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness, leading to the practice of virtue in our personal and social lives." However, he cautioned that "we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ."

Following the meetings with the bishops, Williams and his wife, Jane, welcomed 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, the release said.

The two men issued a communiqué after the visit in which they said that during their private conversation, they addressed "many of the issues of mutual concern to Anglicans and Roman Catholics" as well as their work for peace in the Middle East.

"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," the communiqué said. They also agreed that it was important to improve ecumenical relations and 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."

Church leaders from many denominations and an invitation-only congregation of more than 2,000 people later joined Williams and the pope for Evening Prayer, including the Archbishop of York John Sentamu and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols.

Before the service, the pope and Williams venerated the sixth-century St Augustine Gospels, which may have been brought from Rome by St. Augustine in 597. The book is the oldest Latin Gospel book in existence, and has been in England longer than any other book, according to a press release from the archbishop's office. The Archbishops of Canterbury still take their oaths of office upon the book, which is kept at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

During the service, the pope and Williams each gave an address, both prayed at the Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor and they give a joint blessing from the high altar. The service was televised live by the BBC.

In his address, Archbishop Williams recalled Pope Gregory's commission to St. Augustine to evangelize Britain.

"St. Gregory was the first to spell out for the faithful something of the magnitude of the gift given to Christ's Church through the life of St Benedict -- to whom you, Your Holiness, have signaled your devotion in the choice of your name as Pope," Williams said.

Williams said that St. Benedict's "relatively brief Rule of Life opened up for the whole civilization of Europe since the sixth century the possibility of living in joy and mutual service, in simplicity and self-denial, in a balanced pattern of labor and prayer in which every moment spoke of human dignity fully realized in surrender to a loving God."

The Order of Service is available here.

Also on Sept. 17, Benedict spoke to political leaders in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament. The hall is where in 1535 the Catholic St. Thomas More was convicted of treason after he refused to swear to the Oath of Supremacy that recognized King Henry VIII the head of the church in England.
 
Early in the morning local time Sept. 17, London police acted on a tip and arrested five suspected Islamic terrorists posing as street cleaners who worked out of a rubbish depot in the central part of the city less than a mile from Hyde Park where the pope was due to hold a prayer vigil on the evening of Sept. 18, according to a report on the Telegraph newspaper's website.

Benedict was informed of the arrests, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, told reporters. He added there was "no need to change anything about the program with the pope and the security for this trip."

Protestors gathered at the gates of St Mary's University College in Twickenham, West London Sept. 17, vocally opposing Benedict's position on equality and gay rights and accusing the church of a cover-up of child abuse, according to one newspaper report. Benedict was also met by protestors Sept. 16 in Scotland.

The pope appeared to allude to the abuse scandals during a speech at St. Mary's.

"Indeed, the life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust," he said.

The pope will preside at a Sept. 19 beatification ceremony in Birmingham for Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a priest, cardinal and poet. The Episcopal Church's 76th General Convention, which met in 2009, added what is known as a "trial use" commemoration of Newman (on his Feb. 21 birthday) to the church calendar for the next three years.

Benedict's state visit to the United Kingdom began with a 10-hour tour of Scotland on Sept. 16 during which he met with Queen Elizabeth II at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and celebrated Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow. Mary, Queen of Scots, lived at Holyrood during her brief reign as the Catholic queen of Scotland before she was forced to abdicate in 1567 in favor of her infant son, James VI of Scotland. Mary was executed in 1587 on the order of Queen Elizabeth I; after Elizabeth's death, Mary's son was crowned King James I of England.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly and Episcopal News Quarterly.

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