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A gentle look at a moving experience of prayer, goodwill and hope for the Church of the future...

by Fr James M Rosenthal
London Internet Church Report
September 17, 2010

When Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert Runcie prayed together at the Shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1982, no one could have predicted that in 2010 the reigning Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church would be again praying with the Archbishop of Canterbury, this time in Westminster Abbey, the National Church and shrine of the nation, and no less then just after addressing the leaders of the nation in Westminster Hall. Another first indeed.

With the words of the hymn "Christ is made the sure foundation", a rather rainbow congregation of some 2000 ecumenical leaders and clergy and laity from a wide variety of Christian organisations, joined in the service of Evening Prayer led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall. The service included a new anthem commissioned for the day by Gabriel Jackson, "The Glory of the Lord is Risen Upon Us". The Pope seemed particularly enlivened by the choir and seemingly said so as detected by the television cameras that enabled the world, plus the people in the far corners of the Abbey to see what was transpiring. Directing the music was Mr James O'Donnell of the Abbey. The musical highlight for me was the Psalm set to an Anglican Chant by Henry Ley.

Dame Mary Tanner of the World Council of Churches and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland read the lessons, and young people from various church-related groups, Roman Catholic and Anglican, joined the Revd Michael Macey and Canon Jane Hedges in leading the prayers.

Irish Christians were represented by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Armagh. The Most Revd Barry Morgan, Church in Wales, was present as was the Bishop of London, the Dean of the Swedish Church in London. and the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Incense came wafting from the altar as the choir sang a Magnificat by Stanford, an Anglican gem, and the Dean the blessed the two prelates and the congregation with the incense. The Archbishop and Pope then made their way to the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor to offer prayers for peace and justice and for Christian unity at the ancient shrine and then returned to the High Altar to give a joint blessing to the congregation.

As the Sanctuary party left entered the great quire, applause arose from the congregation, with the Pope, in white cassock, embroidered stole and red "cape" and Archbishop, in gold cope and mitre, blessing the faithful as they processed out.

The congregation had been directed to be seated before 5 p.m. for the service at 6.15 p.m. Video relay was provided of the Pope's address to the Nation, on this State Visit, in Westminster Hall, just across from the Abbey church.

The rather patient crowd had some moments of laughter and responses to what was being shown, at various times, on the screens throughout the nave and transepts.

One such moment came when a former prime minister was caught on camera in a rather strange posture, and another when the Popemobile stopped for the inevitable papal kissing of a baby, orchestrated by the security. Laughter also ensued as the security often struggled to keep up almost jogging along with the Papal car as they came from the Bishops' meeting at Lambeth Palace.

The long waiting time allowed lots of conversation that helped build momentum as the arrival of Pope and Archbishop drew near.

The security was heavy and people passed through metal detectors and names and ID were checked on arrival. By 4 p.m. several hundred people were lined up across from the Abbey hoping to get a glimpse of the Holy Father.

As I left the Abbey and made my way down Whitehall, a young girl, walking along with her mother and 3 other children, said, "Father, did you see the Pope", I said, "Yes". She asked "Can you give us a blessing", I said, "of course" and learned their rather exotic African names and that they were from St Ignatius Church in Hackney. They carried the Union Jack with an image of the Pope and their smiles and level of excitement were infectious. They made me feel so good. As I said goodbye I asked them to light a candle for me and waved. I then stopped and asked the young boy if he would like to have my rather elegant order of service. "This is the official programme," I said. The boy, with a great smile said, "Thank you, Father", and promised they would keep it safe as a remembrance of this day. They touched it as if it were gold.

All I can say is that Christianity has a bright future if this young mother and her 4 children from Hackney have their say. For them and the Papal visit I simply say, Thanks be to God.


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