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Gerard O’ConnellApril 19, 2023
king charles walks wearing a dark suit with green grass behind himBritain's King Charles III walks at Aberdeen Airport in Scotland as he travels to London in a Sept. 9, 2022, file photo, following the Sept. 8 death of Queen Elizabeth II. (CNS photo/Aaron Chown, pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis has given relics of the True Cross—two small wooden shards—to King Charles III as a gift for his coronation in Westminster Abbey, London, on May 6. They will be incorporated into the newly made Cross of Wales that will be carried at the head of the procession for the coronation in the abbey, which is a religious ceremony.

Msgr. Ervin Lengyel, the secretary of the Vatican nunciature in London, tweeted: “In a significant ecumenical gesture, the Cross of Wales will incorporate a relic of the true cross, the personal gift of Pope Francis to His Majesty the King to mark the coronation.”

A Vatican source, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak, said, “The Holy See gifted two relics [that] were preserved in a Lipsanoteca Room of the Vatican Museums, as an ecumenical gesture.”

The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, said the relics were “a personal gift from the Pope” and were handed over last week in the Royal Chapel of St. James in London by representatives of the Vatican. It reported that “the King requested that the shards be incorporated into a new processional cross that he commissioned for the Church in Wales to celebrate its centenary before becoming monarch.”

“With a sense of deep joy, we embrace this cross, kindly given by King Charles, and containing a relic of the true cross, generously gifted by the Holy See,” Catholic Archbishop Mark O’Toole of Cardiff said in a statement.

“Both fragments are shaped as crosses, one measuring 1cm and the other 5mm. They have now been set into the larger silver cross behind a rose crystal gemstone,” The Daily Telegraph revealed. It said the cross, crafted from recycled silver bullion from the Royal Mint together with timber and slate from Wales, will be used to lead the procession into Westminster Abbey, a decision said to reflect the King’s “deep and long standing affection for Wales.”

The Anglican Church in Wales, describing that cross, said it is inscribed on the back with words, in Welsh, from the last sermon of St. David, a sixth-century bishop and patron saint of Wales: “Be joyful. Keep the faith. Do the little things.”

After the coronation ceremony, at Prince Charles’s wish, the cross “will be shared between the Anglican and Catholic churches in Wales,” The Daily Telegraph reported.

“With a sense of deep joy, we embrace this cross, kindly given by King Charles, and containing a relic of the true cross, generously gifted by the Holy See,” Catholic Archbishop Mark O’Toole of Cardiff said in a statement published on the Church in Wales website.

“The coronation will be an Anglican service, but the prominent inclusion of a gift from the head of the Roman Catholic church reflects how other denominations and faiths will be represented,” the BBC said in a comment.

The cross “is not only a sign of the deep Christian roots of our nation but will, I am sure, encourage us all to model our lives on the love given by our savior, Jesus Christ,” Archbishop O’Toole said.

The news was first broken by British media, including the BBC, on April 19, and confirmed in a tweet by the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Christopher Trott, before Vatican sources also confirmed the extraordinary ecumenical gesture.

“We are deeply moved and grateful to Pope Francis for this extraordinary gift. Reflecting the strength of the relationship that developed over the course of the reign of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, who met 5 Popes,” Ambassador Trott said in a tweet.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is conducting the service in Westminster Abbey, highlighted the fact that the heart of the coronation is a religious ceremony, likening it to the ordination of a priest, the BBC reported. He explained that amid all the “magnificence and pomp” there is a moment of “stillness and simplicity” when the king is anointed with holy oil. But, according to the BBC, this will remain a private moment, and is not expected to be seen by the general public on television.

For the anointing, the king will wear a simple white shirt, rather than “robes of status,” the archbishop said, “in the full knowledge that the task is difficult and he needs help.”

“The coronation will be an Anglican service, but the prominent inclusion of a gift from the head of the Roman Catholic church reflects how other denominations and faiths will be represented,” the BBC said in a comment.

It is expected that as king, Charles III and his wife Queen Camilla will also visit Pope Francis in the Vatican in the not-distant future.

Pope Francis knows King Charles; he met him when, as prince of Wales, Charles came to Rome for the canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman on Oct. 13, 2019. Prince Charles then wrote an article on L’Osservatore Romano to mark the occasion, which was the first canonization of a British person in 40 years.

Speaking of Cardinal Newman, a former Anglican who decided to join the Catholic Church, Prince Charles wrote: “As an Anglican, he guided that church back to its Catholic roots, and as a Catholic he was ready to learn from the Anglican tradition, such as in his promoting the role of the laity. He gave the Catholic Church renewed confidence as it re-established itself in a land in which it had once been uprooted.”

He concluded, “As we mark the life of this great Briton, this great churchman and, as we can now say, this great saint, who bridges the divisions between traditions, it is surely right that we give thanks for the friendship which, despite the parting, has not merely endured, but has strengthened.”

“In the image of divine harmony which Newman expressed so eloquently, we can see how, ultimately, as we follow with sincerity and courage the different paths to which conscience calls us, all our divisions can lead to a greater understanding and all our ways can find a common home.”

From the beginning of his papacy, the Argentine pope showed his closeness to the British royal family. On March 15, two days after his election, he greeted all the cardinals individually, and he concluded his conversation with the English cardinal, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, by telling him, “Give the Queen my warmest greetings!” One year later, on April 3, 2014, Pope Francis received the queen and Prince Philip in a private audience in the Vatican.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla met Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on April 27, 2009. It is expected that as king, Charles III and his wife Queen Camilla will also visit Pope Francis in the Vatican in the not-distant future.

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