The First Greeting Between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Holy Father
December 3, 1996: In the late afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Mrs Carey and the delegation were accompanied to the Vatican for an initial meeting with the Holy Father. When they had met privately the delegation was introduced, after which the Archbishop and the Holy Father exchanged brief addresses:
Your Holiness, dear Brother in Christ, at the beginning of my visit to Vatican City as your guest I greet you warmly in the name of our common Lord and Saviour. I come to you both in my office of Archbishop of Canterbury and also that of President of the Anglican Communion throughout the world.
Accompanying me are bishops representing our world Christian communion from Europe, Africa and North America. They join me in thanking you for your hospitality and share my joy at being here with you in the cradle of Western Christendom.
If I may be allowed to reminisce I think back to two periods of study I enjoyed here in Rome in the late 70s. The first time I was here as a representative of our General Synod for three weeks and that visit was an important stage in my own ecumenical journey. I returned two years later which happily coincided with your first General Audience at which I was present. The joy which welcomed the start of your Papacy was so memorable.
My brother bishops also join me in offering congratulations to you on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of your ordination into God’s priesthood which you celebrated recently. We give thanks to God for your ministry of service and your unfailing commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Later this week, we will have the opportunity to discuss more fully those many matters of concern that are shared by Christians both of the Anglican Communion and also those who live and pray within the obedience of the Roman Catholic Church.
Here, so soon after my arrival in Rome, it suffices only to affirm the absolute commitment both of myself personally and also of the Anglican Communion to the full, visible unity of Gods Church, a commitment which lies at the heart of our identity as a Church and which was so cogently expressed in the Appeal of the 1920 Lambeth Conference.
This ecumenical commitment has been reiterated and deepened by successive Lambeth Conferences and Christian Unity will be one of the most important themes that we shall explore when the bishops of the Anglican Communion next meet together in 1998.
We recognise and value your own evident commitment to Christian unity so amply demonstrated in your many overseas visits, not least of which was that made to my predecessor, Archbishop Robert Runcie during your visit to Great Britain in 1982, which is still remembered with great warmth and affection.
Also your own writing, Ut Unum Sint, clearly states, “This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission.”
In responding to these words with great joy, we cannot but acknowledge, in spite of great agreement in faith and practice which the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have always enjoyed, that our Churches bear the marks of separation and division. We cannot undo overnight doctrinal differences and the bitternesses that have resulted from the legacy of history. But we are able to confront them as fellow Christians, noting with joy the convergence in faith and doctrine that has taken place since the Second Vatican Council and since the work of ARCIC. Much progress has been made and we give thanks for all those Christians who have sought in so many ways to make the vision of reality between our two Churches a tangible reality.
As we approach the Great Jubilee and the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium, we pray for the unity of the Churches in the service of God’s mission to a broken and divided world. And, in this season of Advent as the Church waits with eager and penitent anticipation for the coming of the Saviour we pray that God will give us grace to proclaim faithfully the truth of the Jesus Christ who comes among us in great humility to give the life of God to the world.