Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Bishops sent out to foster unity

Bishop Ross Bay has joined fifty fellow Roman Catholic and Anglican Bishops at the Basilica of ‘St Paul’s Outside the Walls’ in Rome this 25 January to receive commissioning prayers from Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Taonga News  |  27 Jan 2024  |

Anglican Bishop of Auckland Ross Bay and Roman Catholic Bishop of Christchurch Michael Gielen have been commissioned by Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to promote unity and cooperation across the two churches, at a service marking the end of the northern hemisphere’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The commissioning service also formed the midpoint of this week’s ‘Growing Together,’ programme of Catholic-Anglican dialogue and pilgrimage underway in Rome. 

Bishop Ross is pleased to take part in the global summit aimed at promoting closer cooperation, particularly helping regional churches to put into practice the progress made in international theological conversations. 

“The seemingly impossible goal is visible unity between Christian believers and churches. That goal will only become more real where there is a commitment to be together and to talk together.”

“It is a relational exercise. That’s why it’s so important at this gathering that we have come as pairs of bishops. I thank God for the friendship I share with Bishop Michael Gielen and for the work we share at home as co-chairs of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Aotearoa New Zealand (ARCCANZ), a group that Bishop Richard Wallace faithfully contributed to during his episcopate ,and from which his absence will be keenly felt.”

Bishop Michael Gielen has been pleased to represent New Zealand’s Catholic bishops,

“It has been a deep privilege to join with fellow bishops of our respective churches from around the world, hearing their stories and, in many cases, their profound challenges, while continuing to celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ we share,” said Bishop Michael. 

More than fifty bishops, in pairs of Catholics and Anglicans representing 27 regions of the world, were commissioned for the first time since in 2016, when the first IARCCUM summit was held at the church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome. 

This January’s programme has been organised by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), supported by the Anglican Communion Office and the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

Yesterday Pope Francis addressed the bishops, saying:

"Brothers and sisters, fourteen centuries ago, Pope Gregory the Great commissioned Saint Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, and his companions, to set out from Rome to preach the joy of the Gospel to the peoples of England.” 

“Today, with gratitude to God for our sharing in the Gospel, we send you forth, beloved co-workers for the kingdom of God, so that wherever you carry out your ministry, you may together bear witness to the hope that does not deceive and the unity for which our Saviour prayed."

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby offered his own sending out to the bishops,

“As you preach and celebrate the sacraments with God’s holy people, bear witness to the one hope of your calling. May your ministry alongside one another as Catholics and Anglicans be for the world a foretaste of the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ for which we pray this day."

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury together invoked God’s blessing on the pairs of bishops, using the words of the grace from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians before sharing the sign of peace with each pair, as the hymn Ubi caritas was sung.

The service at St Paul Outside the Walls is one of a series of holy sites the bishops are visiting, which will include the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, Augustine of Canterbury and Thomas à Becket. 

Bishop Ross Bay reflected on the powerful experience of hearing directly from his brother and sister bishops, especially those serving in places of great conflict in the world at present, including the Middle East and South Sudan.

“It is a privilege to be able to hear the perspective of Christian leaders and to learn of the ways in which significant ecumenical support is offered one to another to maintain a credible Christian witness and negotiate the complexities of those situations.”

Bishop Ross says the commitment made in this summit is to continue to walk together, both globally, but most especially in each region and to seek to inspire others to catch the ecumenical vision by drawing closer to others within the wider family of Christian churches, and especially between Anglicans and our Catholic sisters and brothers. 

He raises a question about cooperation between churches for Anglicans across Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia to ponder,

“Where are the opportunities for us as Christians to do more things together that we do not need to do apart?”

And from this week’s experiences, Bishop Ross is clear what approach will make any such united mission work.

“The fostering and deepening of relationships and trust is the key to unlocking these possibilities.”