Pope's Warning as Visit Makes History; Pontiff Says Religion Is Marginalised

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Black

THE Pope expressed fears for Christianity's future last night as a string of historic visits went ahead despite arrests over an alleged plot against him. Benedict XVI warned of the faith's "increasing marginalisation" on a day which saw him make first visits by a pontiff to Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey.

As crowds of supporters and thousands of protesters crammed the streets of Westminster to catch a glimpse of the religious leader, he repeatedly argued religion should be recognised for its "vital" contribution to the nation.

The Pontiff told MPs, peers, and religious leaders in Westminster Hall that there were "worrying signs" of a failure to appreciate the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and the "legitimate" role of religion in public life.

He also said a moral failure was to blame for the global financial crisis.

His comments came after the security scare surrounding his arrival in London.

During his address at the Abbey service, which he led alongside the Archbishop, the Pope spoke of the need for Christians to talk about their faith even though society had become "increasingly indifferent or even hostile".

It was one of numerous references the Pope made to society's move away from its Christian heritage.

In his keynote speech at Westminster Hall, the Pope said: "There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.

"And there are those who argue - paradoxically, with the intention of eliminating discrimination - that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience."

Listening to the Pontiff was an audience including former prime ministers Baroness Thatcher, Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown, who sat next to each other, were photographed sharing warm words, just weeks after the publication of Mr Blair's new book which was highly revealing about the volatile nature of the pair's relationship.

The Pope had earlier been warmly greeted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at Lambeth Palace. It came at a time when Anglican moves towards appointing women bishops have unsettled relations with Rome. …