Liberal cleric Rowan Williams was enthroned Thursday as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles and representatives of all of Britain's major religions witnessed the ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral.
In a symbolic gesture, Rowan Williams knocked on the doors of Canterbury Cathedral with a shepherd's staff and strode in. He is the first Welshman to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in a thousand years and his Welsh roots were reflected in the enthronement ceremony.
Welsh hymns and a 200-year-old Welsh poem translated into English by the scholarly archbishop were sung. But recognizing the Anglican Church's worldwide reach, especially its strong presence in Africa and Asia, Urdu and African melodies were also heard during the service.
The Anglican Church split from Roman Catholicism in the 16th century. In recent years, it played a leading role in helping to rid South Africa of apartheid. During his enthronement sermon, the new archbishop challenged his followers to oppose discrimination of all types.
"Once we recognize God's great secret that we are all meant to be God's sons and daughters we can't avoid the call to see one another differently," he said. "No one can be written off, no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties."
The new archbishop, a 52-year-old former Oxford University professor, does not shy away from controversy. He is one of the loudest critics of Prime Minister Tony Blair's tough stance on possible war with Iraq. He has frequently urged Mr. Blair, also an Anglican, to consider the humanitarian consequences of conflict. He has described the prospect of war as unacceptable and deeply disturbing.
Rowan Williams has courted further controversy with his support for gay rights in the church and the ordination of women as priests. On Thursday outside Canterbury Cathedral, Church traditionalists protested against his views on homosexuality. Others say they hope that he will modernize the Anglican Church and reverse its loss of membership.
Supporters say the archbishop is a cleric for our times. He experienced the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York first-hand, 200 meters away from the World Trade Center towers. He says through this, he experienced in a small way what others, particularly Israelis and Palestinians, undergo on almost on a daily basis. But he says people have a choice - to use the language of terror and hate or that of understanding and love.