CANTERBURY, ENGLAND – Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, was enthroned Thursday, taking over the leadership of 80 million Anglicans worldwide.
Welby, a 57-year-old former oil executive, was formally sworn in as spiritual head of the Church of England before 2,000 guests at Canterbury Cathedral, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.
The inauguration service in the 12th-century cathedral in southeast England included some unusual touches. There was Punjabi music and a blessing in French, while West African drummers filled the nave with a thunderous rhythm.
“It’s got quite a good reverberation, this cathedral,” Welby quipped afterward.
For the first time in history, a woman installed the archbishop of Canterbury in his diocesan seat. Taking Welby by the hand, Sheila Watson, archdeacon of Canterbury, played an integral role in the service that marked the start of his ministry as he took over from Rowan Williams.
He was also enthroned as Primate of All England on the marble Chair of St. Augustine, which dates back to at least 1205.
Pope Francis, the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, sent a message of good will to Welby, saying he hoped to meet with him soon and uphold the “fraternal” rapport between their churches.
Entering the cathedral, Welby struck the wooden West Door three times with his pastoral staff and, in an innovation designed to let him declare publicly his core mission, was questioned by a teenaged local worshipper.
“I am sent as archbishop to serve you,” Welby said, the chilly breeze from outside blowing round his golden miter.
In his sermon, Welby said he wanted to foster closer ties with other Christians and heal splits within the Anglican Communion, which is deeply divided over the issue of female bishops.