‘The great warmth and kindness of the welcome we received in Rome speaks eloquently of the state of the relationship between the Catholic Church and their ecumenical partners’, commented David Cornick, General Secretary of Churches Together in England. He was speaking after a visit to Rome by the National Ecumenical Officers of the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, and the Baptist Union of Great Britain between September 30th and October 3rd 2013.
The trip was organised jointly by Churches Together in England (CTE) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. The National Ecumenical Officers were accompanied by the Convenor of CTE, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, the Bishop of Portsmouth, and the Rt Revd Paul Hendricks who has responsibility for ecumenism within the Bishops’ Conference. Fr Robert Bryne CO, the Conference’s Ecumenical Officer, the Revd Dr David Cornick, General Secretary of CTE and Jenny Bond, Field Officer for the North and Midlands, made up the rest of the group.
The intention of the visit was to forge relationships with key ecumenical institutions in Rome and deepen understanding of the Catholic Church. Staff at the Venerable English College, the Pontifical Beda College, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Anglican Centre and the Centro Pro Unione welcomed the group generously and shared their perceptions of the journey towards unity. Archbishop David Moxon of the Anglican Centre described the ecumenical movement as a ‘flotilla of yachts blown in the same direction by the Spirit'.
The British Ambassador to the Holy See, HE Nigel Baker hosted a reception for the group. They prayed together in the Methodist Church in Rome, attended a Mass celebrated by Bishop Paul in one of the crypt chapels in St Peter's, near the tomb of Peter, and visited the church of San Gregorio, where Augustine of Canterbury was Prior before Pope Gregory sent him to England in 597, and where Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams joined in prayer in 2012.The group also visited St Paul’s outside the Walls, paying particular attention to the tomb of Paul and to the exhibition celebrating the Second Vatican Council.