Pope Francis, left, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, arrive for vespers prayers in the church of San Gregorio al Celio, in Rome, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
[Austen Ivereigh] At a joint prayer service this evening at the church in Rome from where Augustine set forth to evangelize England, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, marked the 50th anniversary of their predecessors’ historic meeting — the first since the Reformation. (For background, see CV Comment here.)
The music at the Vespers at St Gregory on the Caelian Hill — whose prior, later known as St Augustine of Canterbury, was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to England — was led by the choir from Canterbury Cathedral together with the Sistine Chapel choir. Among the congregation were Anglican and Catholic bishops from around the world who are in Rome this week to mark the 50th anniversary of their ecumenical dialogue.
Both pope and archbishop addressed the congregation, before symbolically sending out the bishops present in pairs — one Catholic, one Anglican — in a joint mission described in a common declaration. (See texts below).
In his address, Pope Francis noted how “as brothers who belong to different traditions” they were nonetheless “driven by the same Gospel to undertake the same mission in the world.” Therefore, he said, “it would be always good, before embarking on any activity, for you to put these questions to yourselves: Why ought not we do this together with our Anglican brothers?; Can we bear witness to Jesus by acting together with our Catholic brothers?”
Referring to the pastoral staff of St Gregory which is kept in the church, the Pope urged the bishops of both traditions to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, telling them: “It is in sharing the difficulties and joys of the ministry that we once again grow close to each other.”
The declaration notes that, despite many difficulties and disagreements that cannot be immediately resolved — it mentions the ordination of women and “more recent questions regarding human sexuality” — the two Churches were called to work together more closely. “Our ability to come together in praise and prayer to God and witness to the world rests on the confidence that we share a common faith and a substantial measure of agreement in faith,” it notes.
The world “must see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together,” the declaration goes on, before giving examples of this joint mission on issues such as combat climate change and combatting “a culture of waste” where the most vulnerable of people in society are marginalised and discarded.
Pope and archbishop then sent out the pairs of bishops, with the words: “Let their ecumenical mission to those on the margins of society be a witness to all of us, and let the message go out from this holy place, as the Good News was sent out so many centuries ago, that Catholics and Anglicans will work together to give voice to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring relief to the suffering, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring dignity where it is denied and trampled upon. ”
He urged them to be “promoters of a bold and real ecumenism, always on a journey in search of opening new paths.” This is always and above all, he said, a matter of following the example of the Lord, his pastoral methodology, of which the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: to seek out the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, heal the sick. Only thus, the Pope said, “shall the scattered people be brought together”
Texts follow of Pope Francis’s address at Vespers, plus that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, followed by their joint declaration.
- POPE FRANCIS
The prophet Ezekiel, with an eloquent image, describes God as a shepherd herding his scattered sheep. They were separated from each other “in the day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ez 34,12). The Lord seems thus, through the Prophet, to turn to us with a twofold message. First, a message of unity: God, as Shepherd, desires the unity of His people, and he especially desires those appointed as Shepherds under him to spend themselves in pursuit of unity. Second, the reason we are told of the divisions in the flock: in the days of clouds and thick darkness, we lost sight of the brother who stood beside us, we became unable to recognize and rejoice in our respective gifts and in the graces we’ve received. This happened because the darkness of incomprehension and suspicion and, overhead, the dark clouds of disagreements and disputes, gathered around us – often formed for historical and cultural reasons and not only for theological reasons.
But we have the firm belief that God loves to dwell among us, who are his flock and precious treasure. He is a tireless pastor who continues to act (cf. Jn 5:17), encouraging us to walk towards greater unity, which can only be achieved with the help of His grace. Therefore we remain confident, because in us, even though we are fragile earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4,7), God loves to pour out his grace. He is convinced that we can move from darkness to light, from dispersion to unity, from wanting to plenitude. This path of communion is the path of all Christians and is your particular mission, for you are the shepherds of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission.
It’s a great vocation, to work as instruments of communion always and everywhere. This means promoting at the same time the unity of the Christian family and the unity of the human family. These two areas are not just opposed but mutually enriching. When, as disciples of Jesus, we offer our services jointly, each opening and meeting, overcoming the temptation to close ourselves off and insulate ourselves, we promote the unity of Christians as well as that of the human family. We recognize ourselves as brothers who belong to different traditions, but driven by the same Gospel to undertake the same mission in the world. Then it would be always good, before embarking on any activity, for you to ask of yourselves these questions: Why ought not we do this together with our Anglican brothers? Can we bear witness to Jesus by acting together with our Catholic brothers?
It is in sharing the difficulties and joys of the ministry that we once again grow close to each other. May God grant you to be promoters of a bold and real ecumenism, always on a journey in search of opening new paths, which will benefit in the first place your brothers in the Provinces and the Episcopal Conferences. This is always and above all a matter of following the example of the Lord, his pastoral methodology, of which the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: to seek out the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounds, heal the sick (cf. v. 16). Only thus shall the scattered people be brought together.
I would like to refer to our common journey in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd, inspired by the pastoral staff of St. Gregory the Great, which might well symbolize the great ecumenical significance of this meeting. Pope Gregory, from this wellspring of mission, chose and sent St. Augustine of Canterbury and his monks to the Anglo-Saxon nations, inaugurating a great chapter in evangelization, which is our common history, and binds us inseparably. Therefore it is right that this pastoral staff be a symbol of our shared journey of unity and mission.
At the center of the curved part of the staff is represented the Risen Lamb. Thus, while reminding us of the will of the Lord to gather the flock and go in search of the lost sheep, the staff also seems to show us the central content of the love of God in Jesus crucified and risen, the Lamb sacrificed and living. It is love that penetrated the darkness of the sealed tomb, and opened the doors to the light of eternal life. The love of the Lamb victorious over sin and death is the true innovative message to carry together to those who are lost today, and to those who still do not have the joy of knowing the compassionate face and merciful embrace of the Good Shepherd. Our ministry consists in illuminating the darkness with this gentle light, with the meek power of love that conquers sin and overcomes death. We have the joy to recognize and celebrate the heart of the faith. Let us once again make that our center and focus, without being distracted by that, which, enticing us to follow the spirit of the world, would detract from the original freshness of the Gospel. From there comes our shared responsibility, the one mission to serve God and humanity.
It was also pointed out by some authors that the pastoral staves, at the other end, often have a pointed tip. It may well think that the ministry not only recalls the vocation to lead and gather the sheep in the name of the Risen Christ, but also to prod those that tend to stand too close and shut in, urging them to get out. The mission of the pastors is to help the flock entrusted to them, that it be always out-going, on the move to proclaim the joy of the Gospel; not closed in tight circles, in ecclesial “microclimates” which would take us back to the days of clouds and thick darkness. Together we ask God for the grace to imitate the spirit and example of the great missionaries, through which the Holy Spirit has revitalized the Church, which is revived when she goes out of her own accord on the ways of the world to live and proclaim the Gospel. Let us remember what happened in Edinburgh, at the origins of the ecumenical movement: it was precisely the fire of mission that allowed us to begin to overcome the barriers and break down the fences that isolated us and made a common path unthinkable. Let us pray together for this: the Lord grant us that from here might arise a renewed élan for communion and mission.
(Unofficial translation by Vatican Radio)
2. ARCHBISHOP WELBY
The Israelites in the slave labour camps outside Babylon knew about fault and responsibility. In the passage just before this they hear from Ezekiel whom to blame for their exile: it is the bad shepherds, their failed leaders. In the following passage they are told that their desperate plight is also their own fault. There are bad sheep as well as bad shepherds.
In this passage, sandwiched between bad shepherds and bad sheep, it is God who says that He Himself will act. He seeks, he rescues, he feeds, he cares for the weak, but the fat and strong, who can only have become so by evil means, are to be destroyed. We are the sheep, and our Shepherd is God himself. In that sentence is all our hope, our certainty that the Church will live through all its struggles and vicissitudes, for the Good Shepherd finds, cares, judges, and restores. Yet in our confidence, we must not forget the warnings.
We cannot be bad shepherds, for they are rejected. When we fight, and when we lose the obligation of sharing mercy and forgiveness, we not only disobey the explicit prayer and command of Our Lord , but also we become shepherds who devour. The church becomes a circus for gladiatorial combat, in which the losers are shown no mercy. Augustine, commenting on Psalm 32, says of the Donatists, “Let us grieve for them, my friends, as though they were our own brothers and sisters. For that is what they are, whether they like it or not.” The wonderful power of the Year of Mercy is in its appeal to the merciful heart of God, in which we must be merciful to each other.
We cannot either be bad sheep, by becoming inward looking, and turning from the Saviour who has gone before us to the poor, the migrant, the slave and the refugee. The Good Shepherd is seeking his people, the fullness of our life is found when we seek with him. Last Christmas, in my chapel, we heard the testimony of a young, trafficked sex worker who had been found by Christians, and through them found the Good Shepherd. We all wept at hope renewed and a journey of healing begun.
While we rejoice that our Good Shepherd is the one who rescues, we also know that we are called to be his feet and hands and mouth. The mouth that calls, the hands that pick up, the feet that cross any obstacle to find the lost sheep and bring it home.
My prayer is always that as God’s family, we are those who look out into a world that is like sheep without a shepherd, where the weak, the unborn, the trafficked, the dying, are treated as inconveniences. Not only do we look, but we respond, saying to the Good Shepherd, “here we are, send us”.
3. COMMON DECLARATION of His Holiness Pope Francis and His Grace Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury
Fifty years ago our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey met in this city hallowed by the ministry and blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II with Archbishop Robert Runcie, and later with Archbishop George Carey, and Pope Benedict XVI with Archbishop Rowan Williams, prayed together here in this Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill from where Pope Gregory sent Augustine to evangelise the Anglo-Saxon people. On pilgrimage to the tombs of these apostles and holy forebears, Catholics and Anglicans recognize that we are heirs of the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to share that treasure with the whole world. We have received the Good News of Jesus Christ through the holy lives of men and women who preached the Gospel in word and deed and we have been commissioned, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). We are united in the conviction that “the ends of the earth” today, is not only a geographical term, but a summons to take the saving message of the Gospel particularly to those on the margins and the peripheries of our societies.
In their historic meeting in 1966, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey established the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission to pursue a serious theological dialogue which, “founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed”. Fifty years later we give thanks for the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which has examined historically divisive doctrines from a fresh perspective of mutual respect and charity. Today we give thanks in particular for the documents of ARCIC II which will be appraised by us, and we await the findings of ARCIC III as it navigates new contexts and new challenges to our unity.
Fifty years ago our predecessors recognized the “serious obstacles” that stood in the way of a restoration of complete faith and sacramental life between us. Nevertheless, they set out undeterred, not knowing what steps could be taken along the way, but in fidelity to the Lord’s prayer that his disciples be one. Much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart. Yet new circumstances have presented new disagreements among us, particularly regarding the ordination of women and more recent questions regarding human sexuality. Behind these differences lies a perennial question about how authority is exercised in the Christian community. These are today some of the concerns that constitute serious obstacles to our full unity. While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred. In our trust and joy in the Holy Spirit we are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for his Church. We trust in God’s grace and providence, knowing that the Holy Spirit will open new doors and lead us into all truth (cf. John 16: 13).
These differences we have named cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions. These differences must not lead to a lessening of our ecumenical endeavours. Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper that all might be one (cf. John 17: 20-23) is as imperative for his disciples today as it was at that moment of his impending passion, death and resurrection, and consequent birth of his Church. Nor should our differences come in the way of our common prayer: not only can we pray together, we must pray together, giving voice to our shared faith and joy in the Gospel of Christ, the ancient Creeds, and the power of God’s love, made present in the Holy Spirit, to overcome all sin and division. And so, with our predecessors, we urge our clergy and faithful not to neglect or undervalue that certain yet imperfect communion that we already share.
Wider and deeper than our differences are the faith that we share and our common joy in the Gospel. Christ prayed that his disciples may all be one, “so that the world might believe” (John 17: 21). The longing for unity that we express in this Common Declaration is closely tied to the desire we share that men and women come to believe that God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to save the world from the evil that oppresses and diminishes the entire creation. Jesus gave his life in love, and rising from the dead overcame even death itself. Christians who have come to this faith, have encountered Jesus and the victory of his love in their own lives, and are impelled to share the joy of this Good News with others. Our ability to come together in praise and prayer to God and witness to the world rests on the confidence that we share a common faith and a substantial measure of agreement in faith.
The world must see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together. We can, and must, work together to protect and preserve our common home: living, teaching and acting in ways that favour a speedy end to the environmental destruction that offends the Creator and degrades his creatures, and building individual and collective patterns of behaviour that foster a sustainable and integral development for the good of all. We can, and must, be united in a common cause to uphold and defend the dignity of all people. The human person is demeaned by personal and societal sin. In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering, which also many of our brothers and sisters in Christ today endure. In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalised and discarded. In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief. Our Christian faith leads us to recognise the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honour it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace. As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates.
Fifty years ago Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey took as their inspiration the words of the apostle: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 13-14). Today, “those things which are behind” – the painful centuries of separation –have been partially healed by fifty years of friendship. We give thanks for the fifty years of the Anglican Centre in Rome dedicated to being a place of encounter and friendship. We have become partners and companions on our pilgrim journey, facing the same difficulties, and strengthening each other by learning to value the gifts which God has given to the other, and to receive them as our own in humility and gratitude.
We are impatient for progress that we might be fully united in proclaiming, in word and deed, the saving and healing gospel of Christ to all people. For this reason we take great encouragement from the meeting during these days of so many Catholic and Anglican bishops of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) who, on the basis of all that they have in common, which generations of ARCIC scholars have painstakingly unveiled, are eager to go forward in collaborative mission and witness to the “ends of the earth”. Today we rejoice to commission them and send them forth in pairs as the Lord sent out the seventy-two disciples. Let their ecumenical mission to those on the margins of society be a witness to all of us, and let the message go out from this holy place, as the Good News was sent out so many centuries ago, that Catholics and Anglicans will work together to give voice to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring relief to the suffering, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring dignity where it is denied and trampled upon.
In this Church of Saint Gregory the Great, we earnestly invoke the blessings of the Most Holy Trinity on the continuing work of ARCIC and IARCCUM, and on all those who pray for and contribute to the restoration of unity between us.
Rome, 5 October 2016