Pope Francis will make a historic visit to a Church of England congregation in Rome on Feb. 26. He will join the congregation at All Saints’ Church for a short Choral Evensong service; it will include the blessing of a specially commissioned icon and the twinning of All Saints’ with Parrocchia Ognissanti Roma, a church with strong ecumenical ties.
Parrocchia Ognissanti Roma is the titular church of Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Pope Paul VI celebrated the first Mass in Italian there, on March 7, 1965, following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The event comes as part of bicentennial celebrations for All Saints’, which began with a small group of worshipers on October 27, 1816. The current church, close to the Spanish Steps, was built more than half a century later and designed by George Edmund Street, one of the most famous British architects of the Victorian era. All Saints’ is the largest Anglican congregation in Italy and part of the Diocese in Europe.
The church was recently granted legal recognition from the Italian government. The Rt. Rev. Robert Innes and his suffragan, the Rt. Rev. David Hamid, will welcome Pope Francis.
During the afternoon liturgy, Pope Francis will deliver a homily and answer questions from parishioners. A St. Savior icon, which will be blessed during the papal visit, has been commissioned and made for the 200th anniversary by a British artist, Ian Knowles, director of the Bethlehem Icon Centre.
In October, Pope Francis presided at a joint service of Vespers in Rome with the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the end of the service, Pope Francis gave Archbishop Justin Welby a replica of St. Gregory’s staff. Archbishop Welby took a pectoral cross from around his neck and gave it to Pope Francis.
Located on the site of a former Augustinian convent, All Saints’ Church was built during the 1880s. During the excavation of the site, two bronze heads, a mask of the emperor Nero and a head of leading Roman noblewoman, Agrippina the Elder, were discovered and later presented to Musei Capitolini.
The foundation stone was laid on Easter Day in 1882 and the first Eucharist was celebrated five years later on Easter Sunday 1887. The neo-Gothic church is noted for its white travertine spire, its marbled columns and arches, and its stained-glass windows depicting the lives of the saints and martyrs. One of these windows portrays the English monk St. Bede, from whose commentaries Pope Francis chose his motto.