NEWS STORY: Queen, Pope Meet and Urge War on Poverty, Greater Efforts for Unity

c. 2000 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY _ A friendly and smiling Queen Elizabeth II, head of the Anglican Church of England, and a bent but cordial Pope John Paul II, head of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics, made the war on world poverty their common ground Tuesday (Oct. 17) during a meeting at the Vatican.

And both leaders spoke of their desire for Christian unity despite the serious obstacles that divide their two churches.

``I cannot but express my appreciation of Britain's recent undertaking to effect total cancellation of the debt owed to it by heavily indebted poor countries,''John Paul said in a statement he gave the British sovereign.

``The new millenium calls upon us all to work effectively to achieve a world not contaminated by greed, self-interest and the lust for dominance, but open to and respectful of the human dignity, inalienable rights and fundamental equality of every member of the human family.''

Queen Elizabeth, in a statement she handed Pope John Paul, praised the Polish pontiff for his role in promoting aid to poor countries.

``Your Holiness, you are spiritual leader of some 1 billion Roman Catholics. This includes some of the richest and many of the poorest people of the world,'' the queen said. ``You have made alleviation of poverty a particular focus for the Jubilee Year. As head of the Commonwealth of 54 independent nations I welcome and admire your personal commitment to this cause.''

A Vatican band playing ``God Save the Queen'' and a line of Swiss Guards in the colorful red, blue and gold uniforms Michelangelo designed greeted Queen Elizabeth when she arrived at the pope's Apostolic Palace. Her husband Prince Phillip and an entourage of 15 led by British Secretary of State Robin Cook accompanied the queen.

The queen, 74, smiled often and looked sprightly next to Pope John Paul who at 80 looks much more than six years her elder.

The pope and queen spent 20 minutes in a private audience in John Paul's study, exchanging their written statements and gifts. Elizabeth presented the pope with 50 facsimiles of drawings by the 18th century Venetian master Canaletto, now part of her private collection at Windsor castle. The pontiff gave the British sovereign a reproduction of a 13th century New Testament known as the Codex Vaticanum 39. He also gave the queen three medals of his pontificate, in gold, silver and bronze but no rosary, since the queen is not a Roman Catholic.

After the meeting, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and then toured the Sistine Chapel.

British officials were quick to tell reporters Elizabeth visited the pope strictly in her role as head of state and not as head of the Anglican Church. But this did not stop the queen from addressing the issue of Christian unity and with surprising optimism.

``In a Christian context I am pleased to note the important progress that has been made in overcoming historic differences between Anglicans and Roman Catholics,'' she said. ``I trust that we shall continue to advance along the path which leads to Christian unity.''

The two churches have been divided since 1529 when Henry VIII, failing to get church approval for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, threw out papal authority and proclaimed himself head of the Church in England.

John Paul, in his statement, told Elizabeth her visit ``immediately brings to mind the rich heritage of British Christianity and all that Great Britain has contributed to the building of Christian Europe, and indeed to the spread of Christianity throughout the world, since Saint Augustine of Canterbury preached the gospel in your lands.''

``Through that long history, relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See have not always been untroubled; long years of common inheritance were followed by the sad years of division,'' the pope said. ``But in recent years there has emerged between us a cordiality more in keeping with the harmony of earlier times and more genuinely expressive of our common spiritual roots.

``There can be no turning back from the ecumenical goal we have set ourselves in obedience to the Lord's command,'' John Paul said.


Queen Elizabeth also thanked Pope John Paul for his help in attempting to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland. ``Religion may sometimes be a source of division, but it can also be a powerful source of healing,'' the queen said. ``In the United Kingdom, there has been progress towards peace between the two communities in Northern Ireland. We are most grateful for your help and support for this process.''

John Paul also spoke of the need to promote peace and unity in Europe.

Speaking to Elizabeth as a fellow European, the pontiff said Europe ``stands at a turning point in its history as it seeks a unity capable of excluding forever the kind of conflicts which have been so much a part of its past.

``You and I have personally lived through one of Europe's most terrible wars,'' the pope said, referring to World War II, ``and we see clearly the need to build a deep and enduring European unity, firmly rooted in the genuine human and spiritual genius of Europe's peoples.''

Elizabeth II first visited Vatican City as a young princess in 1951 during the reign of Pope Pius XII. She returned in 1960 as queen to visit John XXIII and then in 1980 for her first encounter with Karol Wojtyla.