Posted by esbvm on 24th September 2010
Representatives of the ESBVM were privileged to be present at the ecumenical service in Westminster Abbey during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. We were seated in the Nave close to tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and had a wonderful vantage point for the Pope’s arrival and the first part of the service.
It was an historic moment when Pope Benedict XVI went to Westminster Abbey, the heart of our country’s establishment where monarchs have been crowned and are buried.
The Pope stepped out of the Popemobile to cheering crowds, who obscured the ‘No Popery’ banner on the opposite side of the road. The Dean, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, greeted him and pointed out the effigies of St Maximillian Kolbe and Oscar Romero , alongside more ancient saints, above the great West Door. The Pope looked impressed and gestured enthusiastically towards the figures.
The Abbey is dedicated to St Peter, and it was a poignant moment as today’s successor to the Apostle entered with the Archbishop of Canterbury, having come from an historic meeting at Lambeth Palace with Anglican and Catholic Bishops. They were accompanied by Dr John Sentanu, Archbishop of York, and the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev’d Vincent Nichols.
The Dean invited the Pope to pray before the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, as is the custom for visiting heads of state. Following a brief prayer invoking peace, leaders of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, United Reformed, Free Churches of England and Wales, Church of Scotland and the Irish Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Armagh were presented to the Pope,who greeted each warmly. The Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury retired to the Jericho chamber to vest for a service of Evening Prayer. When they re-entered the choir, conducted by Catholic, James O’Donnell, Organist and Master of Choristers, stood in a semi circle by the West Door, singing the Invitatory, especially composed for the service. The Pope looked appreciatively towards them, seemingly impressed by the quality of music.
It was a moving moment as the Procession moved along the Nave towards the chancel with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope walking side by side, preceded by Cathedral clergy and the sixth century Book of Gospels given by Pope Gregory to St Augustine when he bought the message of Christianity to these shores.
As the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury embraced in the sign of Peace spontaneous applause burst out from the entire congregation. Applause had also rung through the Abbey before the Pontiff’s arrival, following his address at the Palace of Westminster which had been relayed on vast screens to the waiting guests.
Dame Mary Tanner, President of the World Council of Churches, read the Epistle and the Rt Reverend John Christie, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland read the Gospel. The Archbishop and Pope then venerated the St Augustine Gospels..
In his address the Pope spoke of his commitment to Christian unity and of coming as a pilgrim to the magnificent abbey:
“whose architecture and history speak so eloquently of our commonheritage of faith. Here we cannot help but be reminded of how greatly the Christian faith shaped theunity and culture of Europe and the heart and spirit of the English people. Here too, we are forciblyreminded that what we share, in Christ, is greater than what continues to divide us.”
He spoke of this years centenary of the ecumenical movement which began at the Edinburgh conference of 1910 and “the remarkable progress” made ,whilst being aware of what still needed to be done; and the challenges, the blessings, the disappointments and the signs of hope which have marked our ecumenical journey.”
He offered words of encouragement for all Christians to rise to the challenges “of the spirit of the age”, as the successor of St Peter “charged with a particular care” for church unity.
The Archbishop of Canterbury referred to the Abbey’s Benedictine origins and the Benedictine Rule that had laid foundations for an entire culture. He spoke of the need to regain the dignity of human labour and leisure in our society and the “profound encyclicals “of Pope Benedict that had explored these themes.
Canon Jane Hedges and representatives from Catholic and Anglican youth organisations led the prayers.
The service culminated with the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury being led by the Dean to kneel and pray together at the tomb of St Edward the Confessor for healing of the the divisions between Christians.
They then gave a joint blessing to the assembled people from many traditions and all walks of life. As they processed down the Abbey the West Doors were flung open and waiting crowds cheered enthusiastically as the Abbey bells rang out. It was an amazing ecumenical occasion where the Pope exuded warmth and was given an equally warm reception.
Afterwards we viewed the gifts exchanged between the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury and met Canon Sagovsky, Canon Theologian of the Abbey, ESBVM member and patron. Lord Hurd, former Foreign Secretary, robed as a Canon of the Abbey, smiled amiably as he exited. Also spotted was a frail but beaming Lord St. John Fawsley wearing his trademark red scarf. We also saw our esteemed member and patron, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware,who declared his delight at the service and was also present at the Papal Mass at the Westminster Cathedral the next morning.
Amanda C Dickie,
Hon. Press Secretary, ESBVM