In an increasingly multiethnic and multicultural Great Britain, Benedict XVI devoted most of his visit in London to meetings with religious leaders. In the morning, he met with representatives of non-Christian faiths, as well as students and teachers from Catholic schools; in the afternoon, he saw Dr Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury. All these people brought together, according to the Pope, by the need that all men of faith have, especially Christians, to proclaim the presence of God in the world.
On the one hand,” he said during the meeting with Anglican bishops at Lambeth Palace, “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, leading to the practice of virtue in our personal and social lives. Ecumenical cooperation 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, 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.”
The cordial meeting between Benedict XVI and Anglican primate, who have already met on several occasions in the past, led the Pontiff to say, “It is not my intention today to speak of the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter. Those difficulties are well known to everyone here. Rather, I wish to join you in giving thanks for the deep friendship that has grown between us and for the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue during the forty years that have elapsed since the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission began its work. Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth.”
An atmosphere of serenity also pervaded the meeting in the morning with representatives of Britain’s other major religions, namely Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, which was not troubled by news that London police had detained five individuals on suspicion of planning an attack to coincide with the papal visit. No information, as to whether Benedict XVI was in fact the target or not, was released.
“The presence of committed believers in various fields of social and economic life speaks eloquently of the fact that the spiritual dimension of our lives is fundamental to our identity as human beings, that man, in other words, does not live by bread alone (cf Deut 8:3). As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this ‘side by side’ dimension of our cooperation, which complements the ‘face to face’ aspect of our continuing dialogue.”
“Ever since the Second Vatican Council,” the Holy Father said, “the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions. I am thinking in particular of situations in some parts of the world, where cooperation and dialogue between religions calls for mutual respect, the freedom to practise one’s religion and to engage in acts of public worship, and the freedom to follow one’s conscience without suffering ostracism or persecution, even after conversion from one religion to another. Once such a respect and openness has been established, peoples of all religions will work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding, and so give a convincing witness before the world.”
“This kind of dialogue needs to take place on a number of different levels, and should not be limited to formal discussions. The dialogue of life involves simply living alongside one another and learning from one another in such a way as to grow in mutual knowledge and respect. The dialogue of action brings us together in concrete forms of collaboration, as we apply our religious insights to the task of promoting integral human development, working for peace, justice and the stewardship of creation. Such a dialogue may include exploring together how to defend human life at every stage and how to ensure the non-exclusion of the religious dimension of individuals and communities in the life of society. Then at the level of formal conversations, there is a need not only for theological exchange, but also sharing our spiritual riches, speaking of our experience of prayer and contemplation, and expressing to one another the joy of our encounter with divine love.”