[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The ordination of women and “more recent questions regarding human sexuality” are serious obstacles in the path to unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics; but they “cannot prevent us from recognising one another as brothers and sisters in Christ”, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in a Common Declaration.
Speaking of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in 1966 – the first such public meeting of a Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation – and their Common Declaration, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby said that their predecessors had “recognised the ‘serious obstacles’ that stood in the way of a restoration of complete faith and sacramental life between us. Nevertheless, they set out undeterred, not knowing what steps could be taken along the way, but in fidelity to the Lord’s prayer that his disciples be one.
“Much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart. Yet new circumstances have presented new disagreements among us, particularly regarding the ordination of women and more recent questions regarding human sexuality.
“Behind these differences lies a perennial question about how authority is exercised in the Christian community. These are today some of the concerns that constitute serious obstacles to our full unity.
“While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred. In our trust and joy in the Holy Spirit we are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for his Church.
“We trust in God’s grace and providence, knowing that the Holy Spirit will open new doors and lead us into all truth.”
Today’s Common Declaration was signed at a service of Vespers at the Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill in Rome, “from where Pope Gregory sent Augustine to evangelise the Anglo-Saxon people.”
Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and the church – part of a monastery – has a unique place in the history of the Church in England and the Anglican Communion.
During the service, Pope Francis presented Archbishop Welby with a replica of the Crozier of Pope Gregory. The actual crozier of the sixth century Pope is stored in the church, and was sent by Pope Francis to Canterbury in January as the Primates of the Anglican Communion gathered in the Cathedral for their historic meeting.
A priest holds the replica of the Crozier of St Gregory the Great – the sixth Century Pope who sent Augustine to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons – as Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby greet pairs of bishops being sent out for joint mission. The actual crozier is on a pedestal in the top left hand corner of the picture.
Photo: Vatican Television
Pope Francis said that St Gregory’s Pastoral Staff “might well symbolise the great ecumenical significance of this meeting” as he spoke of “our common journey in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd.”
He continued: “Pope Gregory, from this wellspring of mission, chose and sent St Augustine of Canterbury and his monks to the Anglo-Saxon nations, inaugurating a great chapter in evangelisation, which is our common history, and binds us inseparably.
“Therefore it is right that this pastoral staff be a symbol of our shared journey of unity and mission.”
Archbishop Welby presented Pope Francis with his Pectoral Cross symbolising the Cross of Nails – the international reconciliation ministry based at England’s Coventry Cathedral. To loud applause from the congregation in the church of San Gregorio al Celio, in a moving part of the service of Vespers service, which the two leaders jointly led, Archbishop Justin removed the pectoral cross from around his neck and presented it to Pope Francis, who then put the cross around his neck.
Before its journey to Rome, Archbishop Justin blessed the Cross of Nails at a service in Lambeth Palace Chapel, during which Lambeth Palace became the 200th partner of the Community of the Cross of Nails, an international network in 35 countries, which arose out of the vision of the former Provost of Coventry Cathedral, Richard Howard, who made a commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation following the destruction of the cathedral in 1940.
Pope Francis wears the Cross of Nails as he gives a blessing during a service of Vespers at the Church of San Gregorio al Celio.
Photo: Vatican Television
As he blessed the Cross of Nails, the Archbishop said: “Bless His Holiness Pope Francis who inspired by the Cross of Nails, bears witness to the grace and truth of your crucified and risen Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. . .
“I will give this Cross of Nails to His Holiness Pope Francis as a symbol of our partnership in the work of reconciliation. For the Glory of God and the coming of His kingdom of justice and peace.”
During the service, 19-pairs of bishops were sent out by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby for joint mission in their local areas.