Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 17:00 UK

Sentamu urges St George's holiday

A motorist flies the English flag
The archbishop said the England flag was now a unifying symbol

The Archbishop of York has said that making St George's Day a public holiday would promote unity in England.

Dr John Sentamu asked an audience in Oxford: "Has the time come to make the Feast of St George, the Patron Saint of England, a public holiday?"

He said people needed to be more confident about their Englishness or risk extremists filling the vacuum.

"The truth is an all-embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate."

Addressing the Sunday Times Literary Festival, he linked a lack of cohesive national identity with political extremism.

He said: "Previously an icon of extreme nationalists, a sign of exclusion tinged with racism, the flag of St George instead became a unifying symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of 11 men kicking a ball around a field."

The archbishop warned that lack of cultural identity could lead to a "twisted vision" being created by those dissatisfied with their heritage.

Archbishop of York
The archbishop said extremists would fill any vacuum in national identity

"Where there is no awareness of identity, there is a vacuum to be filled," he said.

"Dissatisfaction with one's heritage creates an opening for extremist ideologies.

"Whether it be the terror of salafi-jihadism or the insidious institutional racism of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision if the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity."

He emphasised his speech was not intended as a criticism of multi-culturalism, but rather a call for different communities and religious groups to "embrace" England, and to add new elements to England's "fabric".

"Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England's fabric, rather Englishness is emboldened to grow anew," he said.

"Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are."

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