VATICAN CITY, 17 SEP 2010 (VIS) - At 3.40 p.m. today the Holy Father travelled by car to Lambeth Palace in London, the official residence of the archbishop of Canterbury. The palace library, one of the oldest in the country, contains more than 120,000 books concerning the political, social and economic history of English-speaking countries. It also houses the archives of the archbishops of Canterbury from the thirteenth century to the present, and the archives of the Church of England.
The Church of England, a national Church which broke away from the Catholic Church in 1533 when King Henry VIII passed the Act of Supremacy, is made up of the ecclesiastical provinces of Canterbury and York which comprise the forty-three dioceses of the United Kingdom.
The Church of England has twenty-five million faithful, forty-three percent of the country's population; Queen Elizabeth is its supreme governor while its spiritual head is the archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England. The archbishops who preside over the two provinces and twenty-four other bishops sit by right in the House of Lords. The Anglican Communion has some eighty million faithful in thirty-eight autonomous provinces in 164 countries.
Arriving at Lambeth Palace the Holy Father was welcomed into the library by Rowan Williams, the current archbishop of Canterbury. Also present at the meeting were the archbishop of York, the primate of Scotland, and the bishops of London and Winchester.
The Holy Father visited an exhibition currently being held in the library commemorating the 400th anniversary of its foundation. Then, following a brief prayer and some remarks from Archbishop Williams, he delivered an address to those present.
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".
After his meeting with the archbishop of Canterbury, Benedict XVI travelled by popemobile to Westminster Hall.
PV-UNITED KINGDOM/ VIS 20100918 (760)