ROME (CNS) -- The spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion said he is encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI's commitment to Christian unity and believes his papacy will give special energy to a "united Christian witness" in an increasingly secularized Europe.
Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, the only head of a Church present for Pope Benedict's installation and his April 25 meeting with ecumenical representatives, spoke with reporters afterward.
Because of the large number of representatives at the audience, Archbishop Williams said, "it was not possible to speak in any great depth, but the pope and myself were able to exchange a few words and promised to pray for each other."
The archbishop said he was encouraged by the fact that in the first days following his election "Pope Benedict has gone out of his way to underline the sense of priority of ecumenical work. He has spoken of the service of unity, and we have taken that very much to heart."
The Anglican leader told reporters Pope Benedict repeatedly has expressed his commitment to ecumenism since his April 19 election, "so we look forward in hope and sympathetic interest to how this very fruitful dialogue ... is to be pursued."
English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, who joined Archbishop Williams at the press conference, said Pope Benedict had made it very clear since his election that "there is no going back" on the Catholic Church's commitment to Christian unity, and he has given "his own imprimatur" on ecumenism.
"Someone said our God is a God of surprises, and who knows, Pope Benedict, too, may be a pope of surprises," the cardinal said.
Archbishop Williams said he also was pleased about the new pope's emphasis on "the theme of united Christian witness."
"I sensed a real willingness to draw others into that common encounter -- not aggressive or triumphalistic -- with secularism as a philosophy," he said.
Especially in Europe, the archbishop said, there is a need to find the proper balance between the separation of Church and state, on one hand, and the freedom of Christians to make their beliefs known publicly, on the other.
Archbishop Williams said he does not see secularism as a conspiracy against Christianity, but believes the growth of secularism is due more to "a drift toward a so-unquestioned, so-bland ... assumption that secularism is what every sensible person thinks, that it can feel like a real pushing of the Gospel to the margins" of social discussion.
The archbishop said he has been assured that current Anglican-Roman Catholic projects will continue.
The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission's statement on the Blessed Virgin Mary, "Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ," is due to be released May 16 in Seattle and, the archbishop said the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission work on developing a common statement of faith is continuing.
Archbishop Williams also said the illness and April 2 death of Pope John Paul II, his funeral, the conclave, the election of Pope Benedict and his installation have given "a foretaste of a worldwide fellowship gathered for worship, glorifying God together," in a way that overcame denominational and doctrinal divisions.
"It is as if we have been given a glimpse of other levels of unity," he said.
Too often, the archbishop said, the faith of ordinary Europeans has been ignored, but the massive media coverage of Pope John Paul's death and Pope Benedict's election gave many Christians an opportunity "to talk 'to camera' about their faith."
Archbishop Williams said Pope Benedict's election comes at a time when the Anglican Communion is "struggling to find a robust, sustainable doctrine of the Church" that will help the communion remain united even in the face of sharp differences over such issues as the ordination of openly gay men as bishops and the blessing of gay unions.
The agreements reached with the Catholic Church over basic doctrines and teachings are a resource for the internal unity of the Anglican Communion as well as for the movement toward unity with the Roman Catholic Church, he said.
Archbishop Williams said that "perhaps for people outside the Roman Catholic Church" more than for Catholics there is a willingness to suspend judgments about Pope Benedict and wait to see what he will do as pope.
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