When the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, met the pontiff he gave him the Holy Grail, a beer brewed in Masham, North Yorkshire.
It was the highlight of the archbishop's first trip to Rome to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and to cement cordial relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
Following their 15-minute chat in the Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura, believed to be the burial place of St Paul, Sentamu said: "I told the brewery I was meeting the Pope and they made a special brew for him. I heard he'd been given some Black Sheep ale and liked it. So I brought that and the Holy Grail."
The gifts pleased the Pope, who is Bavarian by birth and prefers beer to wine and water. That the tipple was a one-off would have also suited a pontiff with designer flourishes. During a two-hour service, which was peppered with incense, chanting, coughing and ringtones, his ruby-red Prada loafers peeped out from under his ivory robes.
"I was very impressed by the Pope," Sentamu said. "He cares about human beings. He is such a deep theologian, it drives him to compassion. He is not a starchy person, but people look at his writings, they are very precise, and think he is like that ... but he is very warm."
Squabbles over the ordination of gay bishops have alarmed the Vatican, which fears that there could be no further dialogue until the communion's future is secure. During a session with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the York delegation reassured Vatican officials that the Anglican communion remained healthy. They cited the forthcoming Lambeth conference, which will bring the world's Anglican bishops together, as an example.
The Rev Canon Robert Paterson, Sentamu's chaplain, said: "We said, 'Nothing is broken. Lambeth is going ahead, Rowan [the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams] is fine and it's steady as she goes'." Vatican insiders said Williams and the Pope bonded immediately when they met in 2006. Both academics, they had read each other's books before their private audience and the Pope was delighted that Williams addressed him in German. "They had a three-hour lunch," said one source. "The Pope never has a three-hour lunch with anyone."
Sentamu observed that while Williams may not be loved in the Anglican communion, he was held in high regard by the Vatican. "The Roman Catholic church has tremendous respect for Rowan. It's a bit sad when a son is loved by his neighbours but not by his father.
"Anglicans always carry out their quarrels in public. The danger is we look more divided than we are. The joy is we talk about everything. I'm amazed people call Britain a secular country when 70% of people identify themselves as Christian and 90% believe in God.
"Christianity has become part of the furniture ... like a grand piano nobody plays any longer. I want the dust to be taken off and people to play music. The Anglican church will survive, but not for its own sake. Africa, Aids and bad governance are rampant. If the church concentrates on doctrine we will be in the minority. If Jesus were around he'd say to the church, 'Look after the poor.'"
He praised the charitable work of the Sant'Egidio community, a lay group helping Rome's destitute and homeless. More than 20,000 people, mostly immigrants, have registered to use its facilities, including a soup kitchen and language school. "They give them education and understanding. I heard at least nine languages in that dining hall ... but we have a common tongue - humanity.
"Italy is the starting point for asylum seekers but the UK is their final destination. We're seen as a caring island. Britain should be proud that it can contain everyone. I never thought I would think this way because I have always criticised the government on its immigration policies. Now I know where the battle is. We have to bring other EU nations up to our standards."
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