(Photo: AP Images / Gregorio Borgia)
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams on Friday welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Lambeth Palace where they discussed unity and the challenges Christians face in culture.
It was the first time in history that a pontiff visited the Archbishop of Canterbury's official London residence.
The Anglican and Roman Catholic heads shared warm words as they expressed their desire to build closer relations.
"As bishops, we are servants of the unity of Christ's people, Christ's one Body," said Williams in his address Friday. "And, meeting as we do as bishops of separated church communities, we must all feel that each of our own ministries is made less by the fact of our dividedness, a very real but imperfect communion."
The historic papal visit comes after a number of Anglicans left the Anglican Communion and joined the Catholic Church. Last year, Pope Benedict invited Anglicans who were discontent with the liberal direction of the global body to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving their Anglican traditions – including married priests. The pope issued an apostolic constitution, providing Vatican guidelines for disaffected Anglicans to enter their fold.
Williams, at the time, said he did not perceive the Vatican's move as "a commentary on Anglican problems" and said it has no negative impact on their relations.
The two church leaders said they remain committed to continuing ecumenical dialogue.
They reaffirmed that commitment on Friday as they addressed a group of Anglican and Catholic bishops at Lambeth Palace.
"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," the Pope said in his address to Williams. "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."
He cited John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism, as an example from whom they can learn the virtues that ecumenism demands.
"On the one hand, he was moved to follow his conscience, even at great personal cost; and on the other hand, the warmth of his continued friendship with his former colleagues, led him to explore with them, in a truly eirenical spirit, the questions on which they differed, driven by a deep longing for unity in faith," the Pope stated. "Your Grace, in that same spirit of friendship, let us renew our determination to pursue the goal of unity in faith, hope, and love, in accordance with the will of our one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
As differences over church governance and theology remain points of dialogue between the two bodies, Williams noted, "Perhaps, we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion."
He quickly added, however, that "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 growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made."
They stressed the importance of ecumenical cooperation as they noted a growing hostility toward Christianity.
Williams pointed to the existence of various trends in culture that "seek to present Christian faith as both an obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect." The Pope, meanwhile, observed that "the surrounding culture is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment."
"Our presence together as British bishops here today is a sign of the way in which, in this country, we see our task as one and indivisible," said the Anglican spiritual leader. "[W]e shall be effective defenders or proclaimers of our faith when we can show what a holy life looks like, a life in which the joy of God is transparently present. And this means that our ministry together as bishops across the still-surviving boundaries of our confessions is not only a search for how we best act together in the public arena; it is a quest together for holiness and transparency to God, a search for ways in which we may help each other to grow in the life of the Holy Spirit."
The Pope's visit to the United Kingdom began on Thursday. It is the first visit to Britain by a pontiff since John Paul II in 1982.