Bishop Peter Collins reflects on summit in Rome and Canterbury

15 February 2024 • Persistent link:

I was recently appointed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to become a member of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). 25 Catholic bishops and 25 Anglican bishops from across the world gathered in Rome to be commissioned jointly by Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the conclusion of the Octave of Prayer for the Unity of Christians.

The Catholic and Anglican bishops were paired from each nation, I being united with Bishop Stephen Race of Beverely who was representing the Church of England. We assembled in Rome on Monday January 22 and transferred the conference to Canterbury on Friday January 26, concluding our deliberations on Monday January 29.

The experience was intense, enlightening and fruitful. Each pairing was charged with sharing their national experience of ecumenical dialogue and cooperation. This sharing proved to be a most powerful experience.

We received first hand witness regarding the effects of warfare in Sudan, South Sudan and Israel/Gaza. Accounts were given of the particular challenges faced by the Christian communities in Pakistan, Myanmar and China. The devastating impact of climatic changes were also addressed through presentations from Brazil and Polynesia/Micronesia. The universal challenges of deepening secularism on every continent were discussed in some detail.

Whatever divides the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion remains less than what unites us. The clear guiding principle of the conference and the guiding principle for all shared action is that we should undertake whatever we can together, except where there is a clear point of division that would preclude such an approach.

Every stage and element of the gatherings in Rome and Canterbury held particular significance. For only the second time in history was Anglican Choral Evensong celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica. Archbishop Justin celebrated the Anglican Eucharist in the Church of St Bartolomeo all’Isola where the Sanctuary of the New Martyrs is housed. Our visit to this Sanctuary left a deep impression upon us all, for we saw displayed a stunning representation of the sacrifice of so many Catholics, Anglicans and other Christians from across the expanse of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The formal commissioning of IARCCUM members took place on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. Pope Francis presided at Solemn Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and in the presence of many members of the College of Cardinals and Prelates from many of the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox Churches. Each pairing of bishops were greeted and blessed by Pope and Anglican Primate. The Roman element of the conference concluded with us gathering for Morning Prayer at the Church of St Gregorio al Celio, the place where Pope St Gregory the Great commissioned St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, to undertake the great mission to the nation of Angles in this island of ours. Bishop Stephen and I were charged with the privilege of reading an extract from the address delivered by Pope Gregory the Great.

Our arrival in Canterbury began with an evocative Candlelit Tour of the Cathedral. Standing on the spot where St Thomas of Canterbury was martyred obviously left a deep impression. We attended the Anglican Eucharist at the Cathedral on Sunday morning and Choral Evensong in the afternoon, the day and the conference concluding with a formal reception and dinner at the Old Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop.

The final agreed statement that was crafted at the conclusion of our deliberations outlines a clear intent for the future. I ask you all to pray for the sustenance of a shared Christian witness in the midst of an increasingly secular environment, the development of a serious and honest dialogue within the Christian family and the enhancement of cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion – internationally, nationally and locally.