Pope to pray with top Anglican on historic visit to Britain

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Pope Benedict XVI will hold joint prayers with the leader of the world's Anglicans on Friday in a symbolic act of unity on day two of a historic state visit to Britain.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church will also attend a service at London's Westminster Abbey led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and meet with him at Lambeth Palace, the Anglican archbishop's London residence.

It is a day of firsts for the 83-year-old pope: no pontiff has visited Lambeth Palace or visited the historic abbey since the foundation of the Church of England when king Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534.

Benedict is also delivering a speech at Westminster Hall -- the historic heart of the Houses of Parliament -- and addressing 3,000 young Catholics at an event in southwest London.

The engagements come just 11 months after Benedict shocked the religious world with an offer to take in dissident Anglicans angered by their church's moves to consecrate female bishops.

On the first day of the pope's visit, he warned of the risk of "aggressive secularism" in Britain and greeted tens of thousands of people at a mass in Glasgow and on the streets of Edinburgh.

The run-up to the visit was clouded by criticism of the Catholic Church's handling of a child abuse scandal and a furore over the 20-million-pound (31-million-dollar, 37-million-euro) cost, and predictions that turnout could be lower than during John Paul II's unofficial visit to Britain in 1982.

There were protests before Benedict's first engagement Friday with young people in Twickenham, southwest of the British capital, with around 20 demonstrators waving banners with slogans such as "There is no God -- get over it" and "The pope is wrong, put a condom on."

Three scantily-clad men dressed as angels -- sent by a gay dating website -- also joined the protesters.

One protestor, 47-year-old Gareth Evans, said: "This Church has not changed in centuries and probably never will. This is not a woolly, fluffy, lovely Church. It is a hating Church which is run with a lot of hatred."

On his flight to Britain, Benedict made some of his strongest comments yet on the paedophilia controversy, saying revelations of child abuse by priests that have rocked the Catholic Church "were a shock to me".

"The authorities in the Church have not been vigilant enough," he said.

The Church "did not act quickly or firmly enough to take the necessary action" to stop the problem, which involved abuse by priests and Catholic teachers in Ireland, Belgium, Germany, the US and other countries.

Benedict is expected to meet a group of 10 victims of abuse on Friday or Saturday in London.

But the emphasis in Friday's events is on the Catholic Church's relationship with the Church of England, despite deep and historic schisms.

Chris Patten, the British government's organiser for the visit, said it had been a "terrific" first day and stressed the common ground between Catholics and Protestants.

"I think (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Pope Benedict have an important message to convey and I think they are conveying essentially the same message even though there are doctrinal differences for which, tragically, there have been Protestant and Catholic martyrs down the years," he told BBC radio.

It is thought that Benedict could shake hands with a female clergywoman in public for the first time when he arrives at Westminster Abbey, where he will be greeted by Reverend Dr Jane Hedges, its canon steward and a campaigner for women bishops.

Benedict will travel to the central English city of Birmingham Sunday, where he will preside over the beatification of a 19th century cardinal, John Henry Newman, in the climax of the visit.

© 2010 AFP

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