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Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis celebrate closer Anglican-Catholic relationship

Posted on: September 30, 2016 12:07 PM
Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis will hold their third formal meeting next week in Rome
Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The historic first public meeting between a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation will be celebrated by the current Pope and Archbishop when they meet next week in Rome, some 50 years on from the first meeting. It was a milestone in ecumenical relations when Archbishop Michael Ramsey paid an official visit to Pope Paul VI in 1966. The visit sent shockwaves around the world when Pope Paul presented Archbishop Ramsey with his episcopal ring. Next week’s meeting between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin will be the third meeting between the pair – a sign of how normal the relationship between the two churches has become.

The relationship between the two churches had been thawing in advance of the 1966 meeting. In 1960 Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher paid a private visit to Pope John XXIII in Rome; and the following year Canon Bernard Pawley was appointed as the Archbishops of Canterbury’s and York’s representative to the Holy See. Anglicans were invited to observe the Second Vatican Council, when it met from 1962 to 1965; and it was felt that “a formal line of contact needed to be put in place.”

In 1966, while in Rome for that first public meeting, Archbishop Michael opened the Anglican Centre in Rome – a permanent Anglican presence which has provided a formal link between the two churches for the past 50 years.

At the same time, Pope Paul and Archbishop Michael issued a common declaration in which they agreed “to inaugurate a serious dialogue . . . which, founded on the Gospels and the ancient common tradition, may lead to the unity for which Christ prayed.” That led to the creation the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (Arcic), which was responsible for theological conversations between the two churches.

In 2000, Archbishop George Carey and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, convoked a conference of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to discern the progress made in theological conversations, and whether closer co-operation could be developed between the two traditions. That was the beginning of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (Iarccum).

The 50 years of “closer and deeper relationships” between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church is being celebrated in a week-long summit beginning today in Canterbury and ending next Friday in Rome. The summit will involve 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from around the world who have been selected by Iarccum to “work together in joint mission” and to “look ahead to opportunities for greater unity.”

The Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops will take part in Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral tomorrow afternoon (Saturday). Later, tomorrow evening, the cathedral’s undercroft will be the venue for a historic Catholic Vigil Mass.

During the week, the bishops will be making presentations about the pastoral challenges in their dioceses, their own experiences and their hopes for the way forward. These presentations will inform the discussions which will follow. They will hold a private meeting with Archbishop Welby on Sunday morning.

Next week, the 19 pairs of bishops will be commissioned by Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis at a service in the monastery church of San Gregorio al Cielo on Wednesday afternoon (5 October). The service will feature the Sistine Chapel Choir and the choir of Canterbury Cathedral.

The first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, was the prior of the monastery of San Gregorio before being sent by the Pope to evangelise England in 597. Earlier this year, San Gregorio sent its ancient relic, the head of the crozier of St Gregory the Great, to Canterbury for the Primates’ Gathering and Meeting in a symbol of prayer and support for the Archbishop and the Anglican Communion.

On Thursday (6 October), Archbishop Welby will have a private meeting with Pope Francis ahead of a series of meetings with bishops and Vatican officials. As a “mark of their deep friendship and respect”, he will wear the episcopal ring that Pope Paul VI presented to Archbishop Michael in 1966.

The summit will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Archbishop Justin will host a dinner in Rome to celebrate five decades of “promoting Christian unity in a divided world.”

“The Anglican Centre has worked for fifty years to help Roman Catholics and Anglicans work together, pray together, study and talk together,” the present director, Archbishop David Moxon, said. “The journey we are on demands the laying-down of old fears and misconceptions of each other, and the building up of a shared story together. These celebrations mark the writing of a new chapter in the history of the Christian Church.”

The suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid, is the Anglican co-chair of Iarccum. He stressed the enormous importance of the week, saying that “It is an immensely significant occasion.”

He added: “There has been such an extraordinary progress towards reconciliation between the two communions in these past fifty years that it is easy to forget just how far we have journeyed together as sisters and brothers in Christ. The common faith we have discovered through our years of dialogue now compels us to act together, sharing in Christ's mission in the world.”