Since the early days of the movement towards Christian Unity, our Diocese has witnessed the passing of many ecumenical milestones. These have included significant events too, such as the audience of the Pope with Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace. In 1995 the Queen became the first Sovereign since the 16th Century to attend a Catholic liturgy officially, when she accepted the invitation of Cardinal Hume to Solemn Vespers in the Cathedral with Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Cardinal Humeâs funeral Mass was also a truly remarkable ecumenical occasion with the presence of so many leaders of the Christian Churches. It was also marked by the affectionate visit of the Chief Rabbi who remained in prayer in Archbishopâs House whilst the funeral took place in the Cathedral.
In 2003 the Newman Association in Hertfordshire, working with St Albans Cathedral and the Society for Ecumenical Studies, invited Cardinal Walter Kasper, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Revd Elizabeth Welch, a former Moderator of the United Reformed Church, to lead a major conference to discuss their 'vision of unity for the next generation'. All called for the recovery of the original guiding vision of âspiritual ecumenismâ, and Cardinal Kasper set the still grave divisions between the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Churches of the Reformation in this encouraging context: 'We are closer now than at any time since the sixteenth century'.
Longstanding traditions of co-operation
Ecumenism in our diocese is not simply marked by significant, historic events. A source of great pride and joy in our Diocese is the long-standing welcome we enjoy at St Albanâs Abbey, where the ecumenical chaplaincy celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2008. So we are able to offer mass regularly mass by the shrine of our landâs first martyr for Jesus Christ, alongside our Anglican and Orthodox friends. The Abbey is the cathedral for our friends in the Anglican diocese for Hertfordshire â history unites us in love for this holy place and our desire for unity today enables us to worship beside each other close as followers of Alban who took up Christâs Cross.
The Westminster Diocese has also witnessed the rise of the Alpha Course as a tool of contemporary evangelisation. Developed by our Anglican neighbours at Holy Trinity Church,. Brompton, it was adapted for use in Catholic settings in the 1990s. It was at our Seminary, Allen Hall, that Cardinal Hume launched Catholic Alpha.
Another strong bond serving to unite Christians has been the renewal experienced through the Charismatic Movement. Essentially spiritual, it has not only reinvigorated the way in which many Christians pray and worship, but it has opened up new possibilities for working together. This has led to a closer friendship in faith, in the service of the world and the proclamation of Christ's redeeming love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It has been a valuable new point of contact between Catholics and other Christians in recently founded Churches arising from the 'house church' movement, as well as among the black-led Pentecostal Churches.
Our Cathedral is also a principal centre for ecumenical encounter and exchange, with regular liturgies celebrated by Christians of other Churches, from an annual visit from the Choir of St Paulâs Cathedral to sing Anglican Evensong in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to Orthodox Vespers in various traditions, Greek, Russian and even in Aramaic, our Lordâs own language, celebrated by the Syriac Orthodox community. And each year a profound feature of our ecumenical life together is the annual act of witness which brings together the communities of our Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Methodist Central Hall to observe the Passion of our Lord in a public procession each Good Friday.
The new dimensions to Spiritual Ecumenism
The moving history of Christian martyrdom, with Protestants and Anglicans losing their lives as well as Catholics in what is now our diocese during the 16th and 17th centuries, inspired a ceremony of commemoration of the Carthusian martyrs, jointly celebrated by Bishop George Stack and the Anglican Bishop of London at Charterhouse in 2005. The following year, at Tyburn Convent, the Catholic, Anglican and Protestant martyrs of London were all commemorated together at a special ecumenical service. This was in response to Pope John Paul IIâs recognition of the holiness and union of all martyrs with Christ in Tertio Millennio Adveniente and his prayer that through their faithfulness and witness the Christians of today could find a ânew memoryâ and thus recover our lost unity.
And in January 2008 there were joyful celebrations mark the Centenary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, beginning with a great celebration involving the Cardinal and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey. This was an act of thanksgiving for all the prayers that have been answered in the last 100 years, far beyond what could have been imagined. And, because, we have still not discovered our unity and full communion, it was a re-commitment by everyone in prayer to the recovery of our visible unity. There were also celebrations at St Albans, Kensington, Notting Hill and many other areas in the Diocese, as well as the now traditional exchange of choirs and preachers between our Cathedral and St Paulâs Cathedral.
But the strength and variety of ecumenical exchange and co-operation with other Christians and Churches has become a fact of life for Catholics in our Diocese most of all in the parishes. We hope in due course to issue a new edition of the Ecumenical Directory of the Diocese, profiling all that is going on and planned for the future in detail.