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A pilgrimage to Canterbury and Rome, personal and ecumenical

In late September and early October I participated in a pilgrimage to Canterbury and Rome as part of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). The vision of the IARCCUM pilgrimage was to bring 19 “pairs” of bishops, Roman Catholic and Anglican, from different regions and countries, to share in a common experience of formation and prayer that would lead to commissioning by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby. The pilgrimage commemorated the anniversary of Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s 1966 visit to Pope Paul VI, a meeting that led to the establishment of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the beginning of official theological dialogue between the two communions.

This pilgrimage was a transformative event for me. I have been involved in ecumenical work throughout my ordained ministry, with Roman Catholics and other Christians, both of the “faith and order” and the “life and work” sort. Since 2010 I have been co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation USA (ARC-USA), the bilateral dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church in this country. These relationships over the years have enriched my life and ministry.

Bishop John Bauerschmidt (Tennessee) with Bishop Grant LeMarquand (Horn of Africa)

The pilgrimage experience was unlike anything else that I have participated in my life in the church. It moved my commitment to ecumenism to a deeper level. Some of the paired bishops were not able to attend, but 36 of us ended up undertaking the pilgrimage. The time spent together in the historic sites of Canterbury and Rome established and deepened relationships, and re-initialized the work of practical cooperation between the churches that is at the heart of IARCCUM.

IARCCUM was established through an initiative of Archbishop George Carey and Pope John Paul II, to monitor and foster the cooperation of our churches. At their 1996 meeting the two bishops wrote that “it may be opportune at this stage in our journey to consult further about how the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church is to progress.” Its origins, however, go back even further. In 1968 The Malta Report (sketching out the work of what later became ARCIC) had already identified the need for a body led by bishops to promote practical cooperation between the churches.

Archbishop Carey and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), moved this work forward in 2000 by convening a meeting in Mississauga, Canada, of bishops from the two churches to take counsel on next steps. After prayer and consultation, the bishops issued a statement, “Communion in Mission,” that recognized the work of ARCIC and the “very impressive degree of agreement in faith” (CIM 4) existing between the churches, and noted the high degree of cooperation between them on the local level in areas of social justice and pastoral care.

In their statement, the bishops called for the establishment of a “Joint Unity Commission” to promote reception in the churches of the ARCIC documents, as well as to further the practical implications of the “fundamental communion of a common faith and a common baptism” (CIM 5) affirmed by the churches. In 2002 this commission, endorsed by the Pope and Archbishop, became known as IARCCUM, and began working on a “Joint Declaration of Agreement” that would commit the two communions afresh to the goal of full visible unity and further common life and witness.

“Communion in Mission” also recognized continuing areas of disagreement between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. New difficulties emerged as well in 2003, in the ordination of a bishop in a same-sex relationship in the Episcopal Church, indicating that the time was not right for signing a joint declaration. Instead of this, IARCCUM in 2007 issued “Growing Together in Unity and Mission” to prompt further discussion and reflection.

Time has passed since then, but the commitment of the churches to this process has continued. Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams, in their Common Declaration of 2006, expressed thanks for the work already done by IARCCUM. They also began the process that led to the convening of ARCIC III in 2011. Especially since the beginning of the pontificate of Francis I and the archiepiscopate of Justin Welby, the churches have moved at the highest level to reinvigorate IARCCUM and to look afresh at the areas of practical cooperation between us.

In other words, given the areas in which we have theological agreement, there ought to be many things that we can do together as Christians in witness in the world. If there are things that we can do together, then we have to wonder why we are not doing them. IARCCUM poses this question to our churches, and seeks to encourage a positive common witness in our countries and regions.

Our 2016 Pilgrimage was intended as the expression of this desire to work together. It took us first to Canterbury Cathedral, where we spent time getting acquainted and learning each other’s contexts for ministry. Most of us were meeting for the first time. My “paired bishop” was Denis Madden, the Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore. In Canterbury we learned about the origins of the Cathedral Church, rooted as it is in the mission of St. Augustine, the Benedictine monk sent by Pope Gregory the Great from Rome to re-evangelize Britain. The theme of martyrdom was also incorporated in our time of formation, as we were invited by our gracious host, Dean Robert Willis, to enter into the story of Thomas Becket and to pray at the site of his death.

We also prayed together as pairs of bishops, vesting and processing at Evensong in the cathedral and at the Sunday Eucharist as well, where Archbishop-elect Donald Bolen of Regina, Canada, our Roman Catholic co-chair, was the preacher. We also worshiped at the Roman Catholic Vigil Mass held on Saturday evening in the crypt of the cathedral, where Bishop David Hamid, Assistant Bishop of Europe and our Anglican co-chair, preached. This pattern of worship continued throughout the pilgrimage, with all the bishops attending each other’s Eucharist (celebrated on alternating days), observing the discipline that does not yet allow Roman Catholics to invite Anglicans to receive Holy Communion or to share themselves in Communion at the Anglican Eucharist. Our real divisions were much in our minds and hearts on these occasions.

St. Peter’s near sunset from the Centro Internazionale Animazione Missionaria

The pilgrimage continued to Rome on Monday, where we were to stay at Centro Internazionale Animazione Missionaria (CIAM), on the campus of the Collegio Urbano close by the Vatican. At every point in the pilgrimage we were ably assisted and supported both by our co-chairs as well as by our IARCCUM co-secretaries, the Rev. John Gibaut of the Anglican Communion Office and the Rev. Anthony Currer of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).

The time in Rome was also spent in formation and worship, where our own pilgrimage intersected with those of others. On this significant anniversary, the Anglican Centre in Rome (established by Archbishop Ramsey as a result of his visit to Pope Paul VI) also celebrated its own founding, as was reported at The Living Church back in September and October (see here, here, here, here, and here). Present in Rome were many members of the Board of Governors of the Anglican Centre, as well as American and British and other members of various “Friends of the Anglican Centre” organizations. Archbishop Welby took the opportunity to invite the Primates of the Anglican Communion, many of whom (including our own primate) attended an audience with Pope Francis. Members of the Covenant blog held a pilgrimage and seminar in Rome at the same time, and other events of various sorts enriched this time and led to valuable connections.

Our first full day in Rome was spent in formation, with Dr. Anna Rowlands of Durham University, who joined our pilgrimage in Canterbury to listen to our conversation and to help us work theologically during our time together. She presented on Anglican and Roman Catholic social teaching, making connections and noting distinct emphases. We also began to think ahead about a statement addressed to our two communities. On Wednesday we attended the symposium on ARCIC & IARCCUM held at the Gregorian University in connection with the anniversary. Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the PCPCU, presided, and Archbishop David Moxon and Archbishop Bernard Longley, the co-chairs of ARCIC III, also spoke, along with a number of theologians and bishops, including Dr. Rowlands.

During this time we were also privileged to visit with many of the presenters at the symposium over lunch at the Centro Pro Unione, hosted by the director, Fr. James Puglisi, SA. We also spent time with Archbishop Welby and the Anglican primates at the offices of the PCPCU, as well as participating in a formal conversation between the Archbishop and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Papal Secretary of State, at the Anglican Centre. We concluded our work on a statement addressed to our two churches that speaks about our experience on pilgrimage and on the challenge to our churches today.

The most significant actions, however, took place in worship. While in Rome we were able, along with the primates, to attend the liturgy celebrated at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, with Cardinal Koch presiding. Afterward a large group, including members of the St. Anselm Community at Lambeth Palace, members of the Board of Governors and Friends of the Anglican Centre, as well as others, prayed the Daily Office along with the Archbishop at the Altar of the Tomb of St. Peter in the Crypt of the Basilica. On our final day in Rome, we celebrated the Anglican Eucharist at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the Roman basilica that commemorates the traditional place of martyrdom of Rome’s other great apostle.

On Thursday evening, the IARCCUM bishops participated in Vespers at Caravita, an oratory near the Jesuit Church of Sant’Ignazio, presided over by Cardinal Parolin with Archbishop Welby as preacher. Caravita has a significant relationship with the Anglican Centre, and the service commemorated the centre’s founding. During the liturgy each IARCCUM bishop was presented with a Lampedusa cross, made from the wreckage of the boats carrying refugees across the Mediterranean. These visible signs of the humanitarian crisis were received as reminders of our common mission as Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

san-gregorio-jwpfThe most significant liturgical event, however, took place on Wednesday night. Pontifical Vespers was celebrated at the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, presided over by Pope Francis with Archbishop Welby. It was from the monastic community at San Gregorio that St. Augustine was sent to Britain, so the return here for the joint liturgy was a significant articulation of a common history and a common mission. The Sistine Chapel Choir and the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral (who had followed us to Rome) both participated, and the primates of the Anglican Communion were also present. Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby spoke. Following the liturgy the two leaders issued their own Common Declaration.

During the liturgy the 36 IARCCUM bishops were commissioned as pairs by the Pope and the Archbishop to walk in the steps of St. Augustine and “to preach the joyful message of the Word of God.” We were asked:

Will you in word and deed proclaim the good news of peace for those who live under the threat of violence, the good news of mercy for those who live in want and shame, and the good news of justice for those who are oppressed?


At the end of the liturgy the two leaders dispatched us with these words:

Our Saviour commissioned his disciples saying, “Peace be with you.” We too send you out with his peace, a peace only he can give. May his peace bring freedom to those who are captive and oppressed, and may his peace bind into greater unity the people he has chosen as his own.

We then processed out of the church as a symbol of the work we are called to in the world. The full text of the Commissioning is here.

The pilgrimage was a transformative event for me. I am still mentally and spiritually unpacking the experience in Canterbury and Rome. I am also pondering the commission given to the IARCCUM bishops by Pope Francis and by Archbishop Welby. How are we to implement in practical form the significant theological agreement, “a common faith and a common baptism,” that we have already identified? This question is at the heart of the matter.

From the nature of the commission it seems that part of what we are called to do as churches is to work together for justice, mercy, and peace. These actions will need to be rooted in common prayer together. Surely in the act of praying together and engaging together in ministry to the most vulnerable and marginalized we will fulfill the commission given us as the baptized members of the Church, and move forward the visible unity of the Church. It is my belief that as we enter more fully into relationship, in common ministry, old difficulties will be seen in a new light and be given a different and more hopeful context for resolution. My time on pilgrimage has given me a renewed vision and a new energy for the task that lies ahead.


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