Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury embraces Pope Benedict XVI after an evening prayer at Westminster Abbey in London Sep 17. CNS photo

LONDON – Pope Benedict XVI and Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury knelt together before the tomb of an 11th-century Christian king after affirming the need for Catholics and Anglicans to give a united witness to society.

St. Edward the Confessor, who is buried in the Anglicans’ Westminster Abbey, reigned five centuries before English Christians became divided.

The pope and the primate of the Church of England paid homage together to the Christian king at the end of an afternoon that included a joint ecumenical prayer service in Westminster Abbey.

Archbishop Williams welcomed Pope Benedict as the first pope ever to visit Westminster Abbey, which was home to a community of Catholic Benedictine monks until 1540 when King Henry VIII dissolved the monastic community.

Beginning in the afternoon with a visit to Lambeth Palace, the archbishop’s residence, the pope told Anglican and Catholic bishops that he did not intend to discuss the difficulties the two communities have encountered on the path toward full unity, but rather to recognise the progress made in ecumenical relations and to encourage closer cooperation for the good of British society.

In his talk to the pope and bishops, Archbishop Williams made similar points, emphasising particularly the need for Christians to give their neighbours concrete examples of what it means to live a faith-and hope-filled life.

Speaking in the library of Lambeth Palace before having tea with Archbishop Williams and his wife, Jane, Pope Benedict said that over the last 50 years society has grown “ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment”.

At the same time, he said, the increasingly multicultural and multi-religious makeup of modern societies gives Christians a chance to explore with members of other religions “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”.

Still, the pope said, “we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ”.

Archbishop Williams told the pope and bishops that in 1845 when Cardinal Newman “finally decided that he must follow his conscience and seek his future in serving God in communion with the See of Rome”, one of his closest Anglican friends “wrote a moving meditation on this ‘parting of friends’ in which he said of the separation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics: ‘It is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart’”.The archbishop said Catholics and Anglicans may not reach full unity quickly, “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 working together to help the poor and to spread the Gospel.

A joint statement issued after the pope and archbishop’s private meeting said, “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.”

By Cindy Wooden, CNS

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