Pope Francis laughs with choir members during his visit to All Saints’ Anglican Church in Rome • Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
On Feb. 26 Pope Francis became the first Catholic pontiff to visit an Anglican parish in Rome. He used the historic occasion to press for greater unity after centuries of mistrust, prejudices, and hostility between the two churches, the Associated Press reported.
Francis and the Rt. Rev. Robert Innes, the Church of England’s Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, prayed side by side in All Saints’ Church, not far from the Spanish Steps.
In his homily, Pope Francis acknowledged that Anglicans and Catholics had long “viewed each other with suspicion and hostility” and that there were “centuries of mutual mistrust.”
“At times, progress on our journey toward full communion may seem slow and uncertain, but today we can be encouraged by our gathering,” the pontiff said.
In turn, Innes praised the pope for his work on behalf of refugees and migrants.
Francis also said he is studying the possibility of visiting South Sudan, which is suffering from famine and civil war.
He said Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic leaders from South Sudan had asked him to make the trip with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Archbishop Justin Welby has described the famine in South Sudan as a dire situation requiring urgent humanitarian and prayerful response. The United Nations reports that 275,000 children are severely malnourished and more than 5 million people urgently need food, agricultural, and nutritional assistance.
One worshiper, who cited Pope Benedict XVI’s concern about stressing shared social actions over seeking theological agreement, asked Francis if he preferred working together on practical matters to holding theological discussions.
Both are important, Francis said: “You have to search through dialogue, through roots, through sacrament. There are things we’re not in agreement on, but you cannot do this in a laboratory. You have to do this walking together.”
The mood was informal. At the end of the gathering, one parishioner gave Francis a traditional Lenten cake, while another woman presented him with a basket of homemade marmalades and chutneys.