Charles condemns godless millennium

Prince of Wales and Archbishop unite to force through a spiritual celebration
Click to follow
The Prince of Wales and the Archbishop of Canterbury are pressing the Government to give a greater spiritual content to the millennium celebrations, stressing the 2,000th birthday of Christ.

The Prince and Dr George Carey have joined forces to set up what is virtually an alternative millennium planning group, holding dinners and inviting other religious leaders to participate.

Prince Charles and Dr Carey set out their vision for commemorating the millennium at a private dinner with other religious leaders on 30 October. A Millennium Commission official said the Prince and Dr Carey had informally voiced their fears to Virginia Bottomley, the National Heritage Secretary.

Letters from St James's Palace, leaked to the Independent on Sunday, reveal the Prince's concern that the Government's plans for the millennium are too materialistic and lack spirituality.

One letter dated 28 October this year, from Prince Charles's then deputy private secretary, Stephen Lamport, says the Prince "was not convinced that the institutional arrangements which had been put in hand reflected an appreciation of these spiritual aspects".

Dr Carey said in a church address last weekend that most people "have only the haziest idea about what we are supposed to be celebrating in the year 2000".

A Lambeth Palace source confirmed that what he called "grown-up discussions" had taken place with Mrs Bottomley and the Prime Minister over the celebrations.

The unprecedentedly powerful combination of the Prince, the Archbishop and other senior religious figures places a major question-mark over the Government's millennium preparations, the centrepieces of which are so far intended to be a pounds 400m exhibition at Greenwich, south London, and a giant Ferris wheel on London's South Bank, sponsored by British Airways.

It will seriously embarrass Government ministers, notably those charged with co-ordinating the events - Mrs Bottomley and Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister. They have placed great store by the need to secure commercial backing for the exhibition, to be housed in a giant dome.

Dr Carey is determined that there should be a Christian element inside the Greenwich exhibition dome and it should not become one huge trade fair. At the same time, he is also keen to focus on the other, spiritual, non-Christian aspects of the year 2000. Other, non-Christian leaders have been invited to meet the Prince and Archbishop to discuss their plans.

The Prince's discontent has been simmering for some time. Early this year, he wrote a newspaper article calling for increased awareness of the spiritual aspects of the millennium. Alarmingly for the Government, as it struggles to plan the events and attract commercial backing, his contact with Dr Carey is a follow-up to the positive responses he received to the article.

The letters reveal that the Prince held a private dinner with the Church leaders on 30 October. The topic for discussion was the millennium. Present were Dr Carey; the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks; Archbishop Gregorios, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Britain; the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Reverend Michael Bowen; Dr Farhan Nizami of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; and Tom Shebbeare, director of the Prince's Trust.

A note of the meeting written by Mr Lamport, now the Prince's private secretary, and sent to Mr Shebbeare on 9 November, said: "The Prince of Wales spoke of the importance of healthcare and of his wish that the millennium might be used to encourage more practical schemes of healthcare which embraced a spiritual approach to healing."

That idea is in line with the Prince's desire to blend the best of orthodox and complimentary medicine. This plan was, according to the note, endorsed by Dr Carey, who argued for the occasion to be used "as a means of reducing the sense of embarrassment in public discussion of the spiritual aspects of our existence, and of helping people to rethink their moral outlook".

Other ideas discussed were a day of fasting, proposed by Archbishop Gregorios, improving race relations, from Dr Nizami, new help for schools and environmental initiatives. The group plans to meet again next spring. A Lambeth Palace spokesman said: "The mood among religious leaders is more optimistic. There is still a lot of work to be done."

At the Millennium Commission, a spokeswoman said talks with religious leaders were continuing. "They would like some religious content within the dome at Greenwich but, as of now, the content has not been finalised. It is something the exhibition's operating company will have to look at."