Police said they received information about a potential threat against the pope overnight, prompting the arrests under Britain's Terrorism Act. All six were being questioned and had not been formally charged by late Friday.
LONDON — Police raided a garbage depot and arrested street cleaners in a suspected terrorist plot against Pope Benedict XVI on Friday. Undeterred, the pontiff stuck to his message, reaching across Britain’s religious and secular divide to demand a greater role for faith in public life.
The pope did not alter a schedule rich in symbolism in Britain, an officially Protestant country with a history of anti-Catholicism: He prayed with the Archbishop of Canterbury and became the first pope to worship in Westminster Abbey.
Benedict also addressed political, cultural and business leaders in Westminster Hall, for centuries the center of British political life, asserting “the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”
Among those in attendance were Tony Blair — a prominent convert to Catholicism — and former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Gordon Brown. Prime Minister David Cameron sent his apologies to the event because he was attending his father’s funeral.
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Faith, the pope said, “is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.”
“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 in the hall inside the Houses of Parliament
Benedict was informed of Friday’s early-morning arrests while visiting a Catholic college, the first stop on the second day of his four-day state visit.
Five suspects are street cleaners arrested at a garbage depot in central London, and a sixth was picked up later. All six were arrested “on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” Police said the suspects range in age from 26 to 50, and media reports said some are Algerian, though authorities would not confirm that.
Police said they received information about a potential threat against the pope overnight, prompting the arrests under Britain’s Terrorism Act. All six were being questioned and had not been formally charged by late Friday.
At the scene of the street cleaners’ arrests in Chiltern Street, near the famed Madame Tussauds wax museum, police cordoned off part of the road. Officers removed items from the depot and examined garbage cans.
The street cleaners worked for a contractor on behalf of Westminster Council, the authority responsible for much of central London, including the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other sites on the pope’s itinerary Friday. However, the arrests took place at a depot responsible for cleaning another part of the city.
A street sweeper at the depot said at least one of those arrested was Algerian and he believed all five were from North Africa. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hours after the arrests, Benedict met with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion that grew from King Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 16th century.
The meeting came amid tensions over Benedict’s decision to initiate fast-track conversions to Catholicism for Anglicans who oppose the ordination of women as bishops.
Williams, who has not hidden his dismay over the Vatican’s overture to conservative Anglicans, emphasized the need to bring the two churches together, saying each was “made less by the fact of our dividedness.”
As he entered Westminster Abbey for an ecumenical service with Williams, the pope shook hands with a female Anglican priest. The ordination of women is one of the major issues dividing the churches.
Benedict’s day began with a noisy welcome from thousands of cheering Catholic schoolchildren at St. Mary’s University College in London, where he urged them to ignore the shallow temptations of today’s “celebrity culture.”
Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.