Popes from the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogues
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew joined Pope Francis in Assisi yesterday (Tuesday) to lead an assembly of religious leaders in prayers for peace. More than 500 Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Jain, Shinto and Zoroastrian leaders from around the world had gathered in the birthplace of St Francis for the World Day of Prayer for Peace event, which attracted around 12,000 participants. The Pope, Patriarch and Archbishop each gave a meditation on the theme of peace during an ecumenical prayer service to close the three-day prayer gathering, which had been organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio. This week’s event came on the 30th anniversary of the First World Day of Prayer for Peace, which the then-Pope, John Paul II, convened in 1986.
On December 2nd, 55 years ago, Pope John XXIII had a private audience with the Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, the first time that Anglican and Catholic leaders had met together since the Reformation. Following their historic encounter, the archbishop met with Cardinal Augustin Bea, head of the newly established Secretariat for Christian Unity, leading to the invitation of Anglican observers to the Second Vatican Council. The meeting also paved the way for the first official encounter between their successors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey in March 1966 and the establishment of an Anglican Centre here in Rome.
This morning Pope Francis received in audience twenty members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, meeting in these days in order to study the relationship between the universal Church and the local Church, with particular reference to processes for discussions and decision making regarding moral and ethical questions. The Commission was created as a result of the historic meeting in 1966 between Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Arthur Michael Ramsey, who signed a joint declaration to establish dialogue based on the Gospel and the common tradition in the hope of leading to the unity in truth for which Christ prayed.
In their second meeting within eighteen months Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby today recommitted themselves resolutely to the struggle against modern slavery and human trafficking.
Following their first meeting last year the two global leaders have continually spoken out to challenge this crime against humanity, and have acted decisively to support the foundation of the new faith based global freedom network. They both endorsed this network as a crucial force in the struggle to rid the world of a global evil.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis have given their backing to a ground-breaking ecumenical initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking. The agreement to help eradicate an injustice affecting up to 29 million people was co-signed on March 17th by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, Archbishop Sir David Moxon; the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Bishop Sanchez Sorondo; Dr Mahmoud Azab on behalf of the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt; and Mr Andrew Forrest, the founder of the large international philanthropic anti-slavery organisation from Perth, Western Australia “Walk Free”.
In their first meeting, Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis both spoke this morning of the bonds of “friendship” and “love” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
The two leaders agreed that the fruits of this dialogue and relationship have the potential to empower Christians around the world to demonstrate the love of Christ.
The Archbishop and the Pope agreed on the need to build an economic system which promotes “the common good” to help those suffering in poverty.
The new director of the Anglican Centre in Rome says he sees promising signs for more visible ecumenism in these early days of Pope Francis’s pontificate. The Most Rev. David Moxon, who became ACR’s director on May 23, says he’s been steadily encouraged by symbolic acts, such as the pope’s solicitation of prayers from a diverse crowd in St. Peter’s Square and his washing of at least one non-Christian’s feet during Holy Week. “These are signs of hope in a very down to earth and genuine way,” Archbishop Moxon said via email from Rome. In addition to his role as director, Moxon is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See.
Anglicans and Roman Catholics share a somewhat turbulent history, but differences were brushed aside March 10 when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI prayed together during an ecumenical vespers service at San Gregorio Magna al Celio in Rome.
The service marked the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Italy’s Camaldoli monastic community, which includes a presence at San Gregorio, a site of major significance to the origins of the Church of England.
Both Christian leaders, who held a private meeting earlier in the day to discuss human rights issues and concerns for the Holy Land, delivered a homily during the vespers and lit candles together in the chapel of St. Gregory.
Echoing the words of his two predecessors, Williams described the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church as “certain yet imperfect” during a sermon that extolled St. Gregory’s virtues of humility and prophecy.
“‘Certain’ because of the shared ecclesial vision to which both our communions are committed … a vision of the restoration of full sacramental communion,” he said. “And ‘yet imperfect’ because of the limit of our vision, a deficit in the depth of our hope and patience.” [The full text of the archbishop’s homily is available here.]
The pope, according to a Vatican Radio translation of his address, which was delivered in Italian, expressed hope that “the sign of our presence here together in front of the holy altar, where Gregory himself celebrated the eucharistic sacrifice, will remain not only as a reminder of our fraternal encounter, but also as a stimulus for all the faithful – both Catholic and Anglican – encouraging them … to renew their commitment to pray constantly and to work for unity. …” [The full text of the pope’s homily is available here.]
When Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher returned from his historic visit to Pope John XXIII in 1960 he reported that the Holy Father asked him when the Anglicans would come back to the Catholic Church. Fisher replied: ‘We cannot come back but we can go forward together.’ At the time this revelation stunned and excited both Anglicans and Catholics. It appeared to mark one the most hopeful moments in the 424 bitter years since Henry VIII broke with Rome and changed the ‘Church in England’ into ‘the Church of England’
On reflection the comment raises more questions than it answers about the one Church that existed before the schism, and about the Churches that might be going ‘forward together’. If there is no going back to the oneness of the Church before 1534, in what sense will the Churches be one in the new togetherness?
A glance at the early Church in Britain, and a more detailed look at some of the various manoeuvrings toward going ‘forward together’ can give us a somewhat better understanding of the difficulties involved.
Several hours before the historic meeting in the Vatican, three Protestant demonstrators from Britain heckled the archbishop at a Holy Communion service in the All Saints Anglican church in Rome.
The three, two of them Baptist ministers, stood up at the completion of Ramsey’s sermon and exposed aprons emblazoned, “Archbishop a Traitor to Protestant Britain.”