SWANWICK, ENGLAND -- Catholics should make church unity "a matter of church policy" because the Christian gospel demands it, Cardinal Basil Hume of London told 200 participants at an ecumenical conference here.

Hume, Britain's ranking Catholic leader, named as his ultimate hope "the visible and organic unity of all churches," saying that such a goal could be achieved only in "God's time."

The cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, both called on British Anglicans and Roman Catholics attending the early September meeting to work harder in the quest for church unity.

Enthusiasm for church unity is still alive, said Runcie, but he warned that some outside the mainstream churches are opposed to unity efforts.

At the opening session, Archbishop John Hapgood of York cautioned delegates not to set their sights too low but to "get the balance right" so as not to frighten off potential allies.

"But at the same time," he added, "we have to beware of making natural caution and institutional inertia lull us into thinking all we need is a little more painless cooperation."

After Hapgood's address, the Rev. Jack Glass and his followers distributed leaflets setting forth what they called a "Scottish Protestant view," quoting a statement in which powerful Vatican official Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned against "superficial and hasty reunification without resolving theological differences."

In an interview after the meeting, Runcie said, "There's a great need for people amid all the complexities of life today to find meaning and purpose in life.

"I think the Christian churches will do that more effectively if they are less preoccupied with their relations with each other and are ready to act together to meet that sort of need."

While admitting that some of his flock were lukewarm about church unity, Hume urged British Catholics to make the search for unity with other churches official policy. His backing for such a move was seen by most delegates as the gathering's most significant achievement.

"Clearly some are more enthusiastic ecumenically than others," he said. Local church groups "work with each other in a kind of covenant. What I'd like to see is our church adopting this covenant thing as national policy."

"There are more things that unite us than divide us," said Hume. "Obstacles have to be looked at in the context of unity, which is already growing."

Runcie urged his audience to "build on our common baptism. There's much more recognition now than there used to be that we are members of one body, admittedly one which is fractured in many ways. But it is no longer the case that one body constitutes the church, and the rest are beyond the pale."

Unity "doesn't mean uniformity," the Anglican leader said. "We're very anxious that as we quicken the pace in walking together in our Christian pilgrimage that we don't create a kind of body to act for the churches which will be of similar sorts of people."

Hume agreed. "There's no question of an RC ceasing to be an RC or an Anglican ceasing to be an Anglican," he said. "In fact, at the heart of ecumenism there's always the need to be true to your own position but to respect the tradition of others."

The churches are "on a journey," said the cardinal, "and we simply don't know what the end of the journey is going to be. He who is conducting the journey is the Lord Himself. There's no question of the Catholic Church throwing out anything which it believes is essential to it."