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Repairing a bridge long fallen in ruin

Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders meet in Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of an historic rapprochement - and to rededicate themselves, their churches and communities to the work of Jesus.

Matthew Davies, for the Episcopal News Service  |  06 Oct 2016  |

More than half of the Anglican Communion primates are in Rome this week to celebrate a historic and significant milestone – 50 years since Pope Paul VI met with Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in Rome in 1966.

That was the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury had met with the Roman Pontiff since the Reformation and Pope Paul presented Ramsey with his episcopal ring as a sign of their friendship and the deepening partnerships between their two churches.
This week’s events have included an ecumenical vespers service at San Gregorio Magna al Celio in Rome, a site of major significance to the origins of the Church of England, and a private meeting between Pope Francis and the Anglican primates on Oct. 6 at the Apostolic Palace, the pope’s official residence at the Vatican City.
Leavening the lump

The 1966 meeting was historic, said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. “But we’re here not simply to celebrate; we’re here to rededicate ourselves and our churches and our communities to the work of Jesus, to following in his footsteps, to make sure that children do not go to bed hungry, to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all creation, to help to make followers of Jesus Christ, and to be a leaven in the world that leavens the whole lump, so that this world looks something less like our nightmare and something more like God’s dream.”

The October 5 vespers service brought together Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis, the combined choirs of Canterbury Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, Anglican archbishops and bishops, Episcopal bishops and Roman Catholic cardinals, and many other church leaders and ecumenical representatives. The archbishop and the pope each preached a sermon (videos available here and here) exchanged gifts as an expression of their commitment towards common mission and issued a common declarationsaying that they are “undeterred” by the “serious obstacles” to full unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
Fifty years earlier, Ramsey and Pope Paul issued their own Common Declaration saying that their meeting “marks a new stage in the development of fraternal relations, based upon Christian charity, and of sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and to re-establish unity.”

Establishing a habit
Wednesday’s vespers marked the fourth time in recent history that a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury have worshipped together at San Gregorio. Pope John Paul II prayed at the church with Archbishop Robert Runcie in 1989 and again with Archbishop George Carey in 1996; Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams prayed together in 2012.

The church is built on the site from which St. Gregory the Great, in the 6th century, sent St. Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury, along with 30 monks to re-evangelize England. They landed in 597 and are credited with laying the foundations for the renewal of English Christianity.
At the end of the service, and perhaps turning a new chapter in the relationships between the two churches, the archbishop of Canterbury and the pope commissioned a new phase of IARCCUM – the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission.

Two by two
They blessed and sent out 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops – albeit all male – to work together in joint mission.

The week’s celebrations also recognize the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome, established in response to that 1966 meeting as an official presence with an ambassadorial role on behalf of the Anglican Communion in the Eternal City.

The Anglican Centre houses an extensive library, serves as an ecumenical meeting place and educational centre, and includes the offices of the archbishop of Canterbury’s diplomatic representative to the Vatican, Archbishop David Moxon.

“We’ve been here as a place where we can extend the hand of friendship and fellowship to our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers in Rome, and to look the Vatican in the eye, to speak the truth in love and to repair a bridge that has now got a lot of traffic going across it,” Archbishop David said as he addressed a gathering of the American Friends of the Anglican Centre in Rome on October 4.

He reminded the gathering of the words that Pope Paul VI had spoken to Archbishop Ramsey at the 1966 meeting: “You are repairing a bridge that had long fallen in ruin centuries ago.”


This article is an edited version of a report first published on ENS. The original report can be seen here.