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Archbishop's interview with Vatican Radio: 'from Assisi to Zimbabwe'

Archbishop Rowan Williams, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi. Photo: ©

Friday 28th October 2011

Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke to Vatican Radio during his visit to Italy for the day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace, which took place in Assisi.



A transcript of the interview follows, or listen to the full interview here [14Mb]




The Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion was among the many religious leaders who met with Pope Benedict in the Vatican on Friday, following their interfaith pilgrimage to Assisi.

After the meeting, Archbishop Rowan Williams sat down with Philippa Hitchen to talk about that Assisi encounter, about his reactions to the lifting of the ban on the British monarch's right to marry a Catholic, about his recent high profile visit to Zimbabwe and about ongoing celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible... 

On Pope Benedict's words in Assisi: "I thought it was very interesting that, in typical style, he did a very sophisticated analysis of different kinds of denial, different kinds of violence, and I think what he was driving at was ... the denial of God sooner of later involves a denial of humanity, and if you want to have a real humanism, it must be somehow open at the top. Without that, you get the anti-humanist religion of the terrorist and the anti-religious humanism of the secularist and they're neither of those good for us as a world."

On his own intervention in Assisi: "I quoted yesterday one of my favourite poets - and it's possibly the first time a Welsh Quaker school teacher has been quoted in this sort of context - but this particular writer, Waldo Williams, for him the notion of recognition is at the very heart of what he's doing in his poetry, what he was doing as a Christian, as a peace activist, recognition that something strikes you in the other as so like you, that you can not any longer treat them as a stranger and that's the moment of breakthrough, morally and spiritually"

On his unscheduled visit during the lunch break in Assisi: "The Holy Father was resting, but the Ecumenical Patriarch and I were whisked away to visit the new house which the Bose community has established in Assisi – for those of us who know Bose it had an immediate family feeling, the beauty and simplicity of the chapel , the warmth of the welcome about a dozen of the brothers had come down for the day, so I'm very glad I didn't miss out on that – even if I did miss out on the siesta!"

On Assisi as a 'city of peace': "It's certainly an idea I'd want to share around, yes, and not least because it would be a very forcible reminder that peace is not just a narrowly secular ideal that people dreamed up in the 18th century as a good idea. But the truce of God was an idea that was around in the Middle Ages, that Francis and the Franciscans were committed to this. I think it doesn't do us any harm to be reminded that these great ideas for reconciliation are rooted in the Gospel.

On the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission: " The main bit of tangible of progress is relationship building, and Bose played a massive role in sense from what I hear of the meeting (last May) is a very strong commitment to each other, a very clear interest in the main lines we've sketched out as the subject matter.

On lifting the ban on Catholics marrying into the monarchy: "My immediate reaction is that the possibility for the monarch to marry a Catholic is not something I lose any sleep over, but the constitutional question, of course the tough one, is the upbringing of any heir to the throne in an Anglican environment, given that the heir to the throne will be the supreme governor, under law, of the Church of England. So I very much welcome the statement made by Archbishop Vincent (Nichols) in response today to this announcement in which he has recognised exactly that problem and made some supportive comments about the establishment of the Church of England. I think if we're quite clear that, so long as the monarch is supreme governor of Church of England, there needs to be a clear understanding that the heir is brought up in that environment, all well and good, and I think Archbishop Vincent has affirmed some important things about the common ground we already share as Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

On possible disestablishment: "I don't sense there's a great head of steam about that as an issue in itself. I think the question of royal marriage is one which understandably has aroused a certain amount of popular feeling because it looks like a simple question of human rights and it also looks like a bit of an anachronistic discrimination against Roman Catholics dating back to the time when people saw them as the Taliban of their day. So I can see the popular feeling behind that – I don't sense much popular feeling or even political feeling around disestablishment as an agenda.

On his recent visit to Africa: "Primarily pastoral goals, visiting part of the communion and especially those provinces that are having a hard time. The trigger was an invitation to go to Malawi to join in the celebration of 150 years of Anglican mission there – the pattern of the visit made it possible to take with me the Archbishops of Central Africa, of Southern Africa, and of Tanzania, both in order to give extra comfort and support to our own Anglican people in their present very hard circumstances there and to make clear to the government of Zimbabwe that our concerns about human rights and the persecution of Anglicans in Zimbabwe is not just a colonial hang over or British eccentricity but something which the Anglican family is concerned about.

On his meeting with Mugabe: "The most positive development, if development it is, is the courts have given some judgements in favour of the legitimate bishops in Harare and Manicaland and I have a sense that the authorities in Zimbabwe may feel that the protection they've been extending to the renegade bishops is not worth the candle. On Sunday about 16.000 people attended the Eucharist we celebrated in the sports stadium and at a rough guess about 100 or so were at the rival bishops' service – I don't think that will have escaped the notice of the authorities...... I can understand the fears and I can understand the way in which visits to any leader of that sort can be exploited, but the refusal to engage is probably, in the long run, more dangerous. Of course it felt risky and of course I didn't feel inherently eager to meet Mugabe but it seemed, with the strong encouragement of the local church, it was important to take the case right to the president's desk – literally - and place on the table before him the dossier of abuses, if only to be able to say no-one can pretend you're ignorant about this and I think that was worth any amount of risk

On New Evangelisation: "We had a very fruitful conversation with Archbishop Fisichella ...we shall be looking for ways of cooperation, not only in the synod but also more broadly in exchanging views and experiences about new methods of evangelisation. The Archbishop and his staff were very interested in the 'Fresh Expressions of Church' movement in the UK and they've already had some contact with the 'Alpha Course', so plenty of avenues to explore there."

On the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible: "The production of the King James Bible was a sort of ecumenical event in that it brought together people who wouldn't have spent much time in each other's company, Puritans and Bishops, at the beginning of the 17th century and that, in itself, helped it to be seen as an anchor for Christian identity beyond confessional dispute....the second thing is that this is simply a work which got under the skin of English speaking people, shaped the idioms and cadences of so many writers and to be ignorant of that is a real loss. The third thing is that the language of the Authorised feels serious, it comes from an age when there was a register of solemnity in English which we don't really have now and while we don't want religion to sound quaint or old fashioned, none the less I think we do need moments in our liturgical practise and our reading of the bible when we're reminded that what were trying to talk about is not just the business of the house in the street, it is also strange and astonishing and terrifying and there's something about the language of the authorised version which just holds on to that for us..." 

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