Undeterred by suspected terror plot, Pope Benedict XVI urges religious tolerance

Pope Benedict XVI embraces Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in London’s Westminster Abbey during an evening prayer service on Friday, part of a four-day visit.

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Pope Benedict XVI embraces Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in London’s Westminster Abbey during an evening prayer service on Friday, part of a four-day visit.

LONDON — Police raided a garbage depot and arrested six street cleaners in a suspected terror plot against Pope Benedict XVI on Friday.

British media said the men were Algerians, but Scotland Yard released no details of any suspected plot. All six were being questioned and had not been formally charged.

Undeterred, the pontiff did not alter a schedule rich in symbolism in an officially Protestant country with a history of anti-Catholicism: He prayed with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Westminster Abbey and became the first pope to worship there.

There was a frisson of risk in the air in the cavernous Westminster Hall inside the Houses of Parliament as Benedict prepared for his address Friday.

Not because he had kept an audience including four former prime ministers waiting for at least an hour. Or because of the arrests of the six men. Rather, this was the speech billed as the most important of Benedict's historic four-day state visit to Britain.

Religion isn't "a problem for legislators to solve," Benedict said. Rather, it's something that lawmakers and others ought to encourage at all levels of national life. "I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance," the pontiff said.

He congratulated Britain on its illustrious democratic history, but also held up the example of the man condemned to death inside the great hall nearly 500 years ago: Thomas More, who refused to countenance Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church, saying he served God before the king.

The audience applauded warmly after the 15-minute address, but signs of Benedict's uphill battle sat in the front row. He shook the hand of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has converted to Catholicism but whose government spokesman once famously declared, "We don't do God." The pope also shook the hand of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, an avowed atheist. Prime Minister David Cameron sent his apologies because he was attending his father's funeral.

The pope also met representatives of other religions, including Muslims and Jews. He stressed mutual respect, tolerance and freedom to follow one's conscience.

Outside, among well-wishers, were protesters who blame the Catholic Church for supporting policies that they say helped spread AIDS and covered up the abuses of priests.

Information from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

Undeterred by suspected terror plot, Pope Benedict XVI urges religious tolerance 09/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 11:23pm]

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