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Rome & Canterbury

This January I participated in a unique pilgrimage and summit, “Growing Together,” sponsored by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). The event brought together 50 paired bishops, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, from 27 different countries to offer an ecumenical witness of solidarity between the two worldwide communions, and to underscore the progress that has been made in relations between them. The pilgrimage began in Rome, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in this historic Christian center, and then moved to the close of Canterbury Cathedral for its conclusion.

IARCCUM practices what is sometimes called the Lund principle: churches are called to act together in all those areas where conviction does not require them to act separately. If there are things that we can do together, we should be doing them. The pilgrimage and summit were intended to offer a common witness of Christians, in the midst of deep divisions in our world and enormous difficulties facing the human family, and to challenge our churches to work more closely together in those areas where we are able to do so.

To understand the significance of this pilgrimage, it is necessary to look back at the origins of IARCCUM and the progress of ecumenical relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church over the last several decades. Following the signing of a historic common declaration by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1966, the two communions have engaged in theological dialogue through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, now in its third iteration (ARCIC III). Even as theological dialogue began, and ARCIC began to produce agreed statements, there was consciousness (expressed in the 1968 Malta Report) of a need for a group of bishops to address practical issues of cooperation.

A gathering of bishops from the two communions in Mississauga, Canada, in 2000 advanced the 1996 call by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop George Carey for a consultation on the future progress of relations. Out of their shared prayer and conversation, the bishops issued a communiqué, “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 called for establishing a “Joint Unity Commission.” The commission was to promote the reception of the ARCIC documents, and the practical consequences of the “fundamental communion of a common faith and a common baptism” (CIM 5) shared by the two communions. In 2002, the commission was endorsed by the Pope and the Archbishop, and became known as IARCCUM.

IARCCUM has no exact parallel in other bilateral ecumenical relationships between churches. First of all, it is a group of bishops, brought together not by their particular theological acumen or knowledge of ecumenism, but principally in their role as leaders. Second, it stands alongside ARCIC, and no other dialogue that the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Communion is engaged in has such an analogue. Though promotion of the work of the theological dialogue between the two communions is part of their charge, the focus of IARCCUM is on common mission, the call to work together in areas where the churches perceive a common call. Third, the paired bishops are drawn from across the world, which speaks of the global reach of the Church’s mission, and of the many places in the world where our churches are present.

In 2016 I participated in the first IARCCUM pilgrimage, which began in Canterbury and ended in Rome. Thirty-six bishops from 19 countries and regions participated. The occasion commemorated the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome, and the 50th anniversary of the 1966 meeting that led to the beginning of ARCIC. As in Mississauga in 2000, the bishops joined in conversation and worship, and issued an agreed statement, in the form of an appeal to both of our communities. A high point was when we were commissioned by Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis in a liturgy presided over by both in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, the monastic community in Rome from which Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine of Canterbury on his mission to evangelize the English. At the end of the liturgy, the bishops processed out of the church in witness to our common mission. It was a striking testimony to our common call to mission.

The 2024 pilgrimage and summit included more bishops, with a wider geographical reach. In contrast to the 2016 pilgrimage, we began in Rome and moved to Canterbury in the course of our week together, in some sense walking in the steps of St. Augustine of Canterbury himself. Once again, our meeting was presided over by Archbishop Donald Bolen and Bishop David Hamid, co-chairs of IARCCUM. The Rev. Martin Browne, OSB, from the Dicastery for Christian Unity, and Dr. Christopher Wells, Director of Unity, Faith, and Order for the Anglican Communion Office, acted as IARCCUM co-secretaries. As outlined by our co-chairs, the goals of this pilgrimage and summit were to build relationships between the bishops, both in the pairs but also across more broadly; to share in prayer and the experience of pilgrimage to these historic Christian sites; to explore the themes of justice, synodality, and safeguarding; and to be sent in mission together.

While in Rome, the bishops were lodged at the Casa Bonus Pastor, not far from the Vatican, which gave opportunity for them to share meals and conversation. In Canterbury, most of us were hosted at the Lodge on the cathedral close. I was paired with the Most Rev. John Michael Botean, bishop of the Eparchy of St. George, based in Canton, Ohio. Bishop John Michael leads the North American jurisdiction of the Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church, a church in full communion with the Holy See but with an ancient liturgy and traditions of its own that differ significantly from those of the Latin rite. The two of us have come to know each other over the last seven years of being co-chairs of the Anglican-Roman Catholic (ARC-USA) bilateral theological dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. This was a chance for us to deepen our relationship, and find new ways to offer common witness.

Together, the bishops shared in significant liturgies. On the first evening of the summit in Rome, on Tuesday, the bishops gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica for Anglican Evensong, in the Chapel of the Choir, where the liturgy of the hours is normally celebrated at the basilica. The choirs and clergy of the two Anglican parishes in the city of Rome combined with a number of other friends and supporters to host this liturgy. The next morning, the bishops together attended Mass at S. Agnese in Agone, where the Catholic bishops concelebrated and the Anglican bishops came forward at Communion time for a blessing. This set a pattern for our celebrations of the Eucharist, respecting the discipline that does not yet allow Roman Catholics normally to invite Anglicans to receive Communion nor themselves to accept the eucharistic hospitality of Anglican churches.

On Thursday we were joined by Archbishop Justin and Caroline Welby, who were guests at a private audience with Pope Francis earlier in the morning. The Archbishop was presider and preacher at an Anglican Eucharist at the Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola, not only the site of an ancient temple of Asclepius (the god of medicine) in pre-Christian times, and the resting place of the relics of St. Bartholomew, but also of a new memorial to modern martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. The martyrs include the seven members of the (Anglican) Melanesian Brotherhood murdered on Guadalcanal in 2003. Archbishop Justin reminded us in his sermon, “In a time of war and persecution, one Christian of another, service is the image of Christ.”

The bishops also spent time, both in Rome and Canterbury, educating themselves on issues of common concern. Cardinal Michael Czerny of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development spoke to the bishops on Tuesday on issues of justice and peace. In the course of the week, we were briefed by some of our bishop pairs on the challenging situations in their countries, including a valuable and timely briefing from Archbishop Hosam Naoum of Jerusalem and Rafic Nahra, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel.

On Wednesday, we were hosted at the Centro Pro Unione for presentations by the Rev. Professor Paul Avis, canon theologian of the Diocese of Exeter, and Sr. Nathalie Becquart, xmcj, of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, on synodality. Thursday saw a visit to the Anglican Centre in Rome, where we were welcomed by the director, the Most Rev. Ian Ernest, for a discussion on creation and environment led by our paired bishops from Brazil, Marinez Bassotto, and Teodoro Mendes Tavares, CSSP. On Saturday, in Canterbury, we heard powerful presentations by Mandy Marshall of the Anglican Communion Office, and the Rev. Hans Zollner, SJ, of the Gregorian University on safeguarding issues in the churches.

Thursday was also the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the final day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, concluded with a major ecumenical service at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the site of St. Paul’s martyrdom. Both Pope Francis and the Archbishop addressed the congregation, and at the conclusion of the liturgy the paired IARCCUM bishops were commissioned by the two leaders. Most notably, the pairs included two women, Bishop Bassotto from Brazil, and Bishop Sally Sue Hernandez from Mexico City. Once again, as it had been for those who participated in 2016, the liturgy of commissioning was a most significant articulation of substantial theological agreement and of a shared mission in the world. Pope Francis told the assembly, “For when Christians grow in the service of God and neighbor, they also grow in reciprocal understanding,” offering a kind of summation of the ecumenical methodology of IARCCUM. During the commissioning, Archbishop Justin reminded the bishops to “bear witness to the one hope of your calling.”

On Friday morning the bishops visited San Gregorio al Celio, the site of the earlier 2016 commissioning, and then headed to the airport for our flight to Britain. The Archbishop traveled with us back to Canterbury, and was most generous with his time with us while we were in residence. Many bishops took part in the candlelit tour of Canterbury Cathedral, led by the Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Ven. Will Adam, visiting the site of St. Thomas a Becket’s martyrdom. On Saturday night the paired bishops participated in Mass at St. Thomas Becket Parish in Canterbury, with the Anglican Bishop of Quebec, Bruce Myers, preaching. On Sunday morning, Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong preached at the Eucharist at which Archbishop Justin presided. The bishops returned later that day to process at Evensong at the Cathedral, and to join the Archbishop and Caroline Welby for dinner afterward at the Old Palace.

The bishops also issued Our Common Witness, Calling and Commitment. This call, addressed to the churches, touches on themes of friendship, synodality, and shared mission. The bishops appealed to St. Gregory’s words to St. Augustine, “we are seeking in Britain brothers [and sisters] we do not know,” pointing to the renewal of ties through ecumenism that are real but have been neglected. Synodality, walking together on the way, also puts relationship at the center of the Church’s life, referencing Pope Francis’ address at St. Paul’s: “First our brothers and sisters, then the structures.” The document concludes, “As we return to our own local churches after our pilgrimage in Rome and Canterbury, we pray that our ministry alongside one another as Catholics and Anglicans will be for the world a foretaste of the reconciling of all Christians in the one and only Church of Christ.”

Finally, some impressions from a busy and eventful week. First, the subject of synodality took a prominent place in the plenary sessions; this is obviously a major subject of discussion within the Roman Catholic Church, on multiple levels and with a good depth of political and theological nuance and context that it would be easy for an Anglican to miss. Synodality is also part of the current agenda of ARCIC, and its next agreed statement, the result of shared reflection between the two communions, will be of great interest. Anglicans tend to congratulate themselves on their practice of synodality on the diocesan and provincial levels, but the Roman Catholic experience of synodality in a global church is one that Anglicans will profit from, if they are willing to do so.

Second, I was honestly surprised to hear bishops from Africa and Asia talk about the rise of secularism in their contexts. It was a strong enough theme to warrant mention in the bishops’ document. In the 2016 pilgrimage, there was much more discussion among the bishops about the increasing influence of Islam. Secularism in those contexts no doubt takes a different shape from that in the Northern Hemisphere, yet its recognition in discussion and in the agreed document is significant of an identifiable global phenomenon.

Third, the value of symbolic action was reaffirmed by my experience on this pilgrimage. One thinks back to Pope Paul VI’s gift of his episcopal ring to Archbishop Michael Ramsey at their 1966 meeting, or Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert Runcie praying together in 1982 at the site of Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral, or the gift of a replica of the crozier of Pope Gregory given by Pope Francis to Archbishop Justin in 2016. The symbolic action that stood out most in 2024 took place at the Vesper service in the Basilica of St. Paul’s. After the Pope preached, Archbishop Justin was invited to add his own words: not included in the bulletin, but an occasion that the Archbishop rose to gracefully. The centerpiece of the event was two Christian leaders addressing divided Christians together.

Please continue to pray for the IARCCUM bishops as they continue to offer witness to our two communions’ common mission in the world.


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