For the first time in history representatives of the Anglican and Orthodox churches have participated in a key ceremony in Rome marking an official Catholic jubilee year. The year 2000 has been designated by the Vatican as a jubilee year, a time of special importance for Catholics which includes the granting of special "indulgences"—remission of the penalty for sin to be served in Purgatory after death. The jubilee, or "Holy Year" as it is sometimes known, is celebrated once every 25 years.

However, some leading international Protestant organizations pointedly abstained from the ceremony, mainly over the controversial issue of indulgences. And there was criticism of the event within some of the Protestant churches that sent officials to Rome for the jubilee event.

Jubilee years include special ceremonies for the opening of doors at four basilicas in Rome. Pope John Paul II has already—over the past month—opened three of the doors at St Peter's Basilica, St John Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore. These special doors remain closed between jubilee years.

Yesterday's opening at St Paul's outside the Walls, where, according to tradition the remains of the Apostle Paul are buried, coincided with the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and was intended to signal the Pope's wish to heal the divisions within Christianity. Representatives of 22 of the world's major churches, and of the World Council of Churches, of which more than 330 churches are members, also attended the ceremony. Many commentators stressed that such widespread participation in an event in Rome was unprecedented.

Of particular symbolic significance was the role played by two Anglican and Orthodox representatives—Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury ...

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