· Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams interviewed on the Vatican Radio ·
“It's a pity the world only sees the quarrels. It's as if that tiny six inches about the surface is what matters and the immense weight of routine prayer and understanding and love and friendship just goes unnoticed”. With these words, His Grace Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury – following the interview given to Vatican Radio immediately after the celebration of Evening Prayer with Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Abbey on Friday evening – expressed the significance of the Holy Father's Visit to the United Kingdom: including the Visit's initial announcement, its eve, and its realization.
The Primate of the Anglican Communion gave witness to the mistaken predictions of the prophets of doom, as the British people's warm welcome to the Pontiff proved beyond all expectations and the positive outcome of the ecumenical meetings despite the unjustified reticence.
The Archbishop of Canterbury defined the ecumenical moments of the Visit as “an enormously happy occasion” and underlined that “the reception that he's [the Holy Father] had from Bishops, from people on the streets and also of course in Westminster Hall, has been hugely positive”. He then referred to the “intensely moving” ecumenical celebration of Vespers in Westminster Abbey which with the presence of the Pontiff in the United Kingdom was “an occasion greatly blessed” for the Anglican Communion.
The first to make the most of it were Benedict XVI and Archbishop Williams, who discussed many topics that they have in common. The Archbishop pointed out in answer to a question about the context of his private meeting with the Pope that these were not “issues that get discussed routinely in... formal dialogue”. He stated, “I think it's a shame if we spend our private time just talking about difficulties. So we talked a bit about Christians in the Holy Land with an eye on the forthcoming Synod. We talked a bit about some of the great areas of conflict where we are trying to work together. We talked about how the Anglican and Roman Catholic hierarchies have worked together in Sudan, the witness and peacemaking and how urgent it is to strengthen that. And we spoke about the subject which both of us have mentioned today, the Holy Father has talked about it a great deal, that is: how to engage in a rational dialogue with secularism”.
This dialogue has emerged from internal issues and has broadened to touch on the necessity for common testimony and greater cooperation, because in today's society there are still divisions and contrasts that affect the Christian Churches.
Here too, the Archbishop of Canterbury tried to clarify the relationship between both religions saying that it is not precisely as the media perceives it: “conflict always makes a better headline story than harmony. But as many people have said to me just this evening, when you think of how utterly unimaginable this would have been 40 or 50 years ago, even as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, clearly something has happened – and part of that something is a return to the roots, something about which the Pope and I again spoke about privately (some of our theological enthusiasms in common there), the heritage of the Fathers, and again praying together at the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, looking back to that age when the boundaries were not what they are now between Christians – all of that I think is part of a very positive picture”.
Benedict XVI's visit offered Catholics and Anglicans an opportunity to show the world this new path for both religions. “My prayer and hope for this visit has been that it will help to put faith on the map in this country and help to make people recognize that huge numbers of perfectly ordinary people believe in God, believe in the sacramental life of the Church, and ground their lives on that”.
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