Kilkenny bishops reflect on special international Anglican-Roman Catholic summit

18 February 2024 • Persistent link:

Two Kilkenny bishops have attended a summit organised by IARCCUM (The International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission) in Rome and Canterbury. Bishop Niall Coll (Bishop of Ossory) and Bishop Adrian Wilkinson (Bishop of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) were the two Irish bishops asked to attend the summit. It was the first time since 2016 that IARCCUM was convened. On this occasion over 50 bishops from 27 different countries, mostly in national pairs, spent between January 22-29 together to listen, pray and discuss how growing together as churches might strengthen our joint witness and mission in the world. Here, they reflect on their pilgrimage together:

Visiting holy sites to pray in both Rome and Canterbury was very much part of the process. On January 23 it was moving for us to be part of an Anglican Choral Evensong being held for only the second time ever in the Choir Chapel of St Peter’s Basilica. The meeting coincided in part with the annual Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity which always ends on January 25 when our churches mark the Feast of the Conversation of St Paul.

Appropriately that evening all the bishops attended Catholic vespers at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, where the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury both preached and commissioned the IARCCUM delegates in their pairs for their work. For us and many of those attending the liturgy, it was encouraging to observe both church leaders clearly at ease in each other’s company and both committed to the goal of Christian unity.

Earlier that day the Archbishop of Canterbury had presided at an Anglican Eucharist in the basilica of San Bartolomeo. Before the service he and the participating bishops, toured the Sanctuary of the New Martyrs, which is a memorial in the crypt of this church. Opened in March last year, this permanent exhibition commemorates the stories of the Christian martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Here the vestments worn by Archbishop Oscar Romero and a book owned by Maksymilian Kolbe were on display. Martyrs from churches other than the Roman Catholic Church are also commemorated in the sanctuary.  Among them are the seven martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican religious order, who were murdered by rebels in the Solomon Islands in 2003. One of those attending IARCCUM was the Anglican Archbishop Leonard Dawea from the Solomon Islands. As a young man, he spent twelve years as a member of the Melanesian Brotherhood and so knew some of those martyred. At the end of the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury laid a wreath at the chapel where the martyrs of Oceania are commemorated.

On the last day in Rome, the bishops visited the church where Pope Gregory the Great commissioned St Augustine (the First Archbishop of Canterbury) to convert the Anglo-Saxons. From there they made the same journey he did, albeit using the comfort and speed of Easyjet!

The second phase of the summit was based in Canterbury and most of the delegates stayed at Cathedral Lodge in the shadow of the great cathedral. There we had time to reflect on many of the issues discussed and began to prepare the final text of a statement setting out our aims and achievements.

We had heard the contributions from other bishops living in Brazil on the need to defend the rights of indigenous people living in the rain forest, from bishops in the Middle East on how the Anglican Diocese in Jerusalem is continuing to support a hospital in war torn Gaza, on the challenge of secularism in some parts of the world, as well as the contrasting challenge of religious fundamentalism in other countries, and these issued were reflected in the text of our statement. As the week unfolded, it was obvious that some of our episcopal colleagues were returning to situations of religious discrimination if not persecution, as well as places of political instability; all very far removed from our experience in Kilkenny.

For us as bishops from Ireland, the summit’s focus on partnership and friendship was best summed up by Cardinal Stephen Chow Saau-yan (Bishop of Hong Kong), who preached at the final Sunday Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. He said:

“We Anglicans and Roman Catholics are called to be Jesus partners, individually and collectively. The twelve apostles and disciples were not called to form camps, working for their own missions, or competing against each other. They were called to become an assembly, a community, a communion, praying and discerning, teaching and serving for the mission of our Triune God.”

The memory of IARCCUM will live long with us and our hope is that it will be a stimulus for continued fruitful ecumenical engagement, not only between the two of us as friends and fellow bishops, but for the wider diocese and church too.