In the Church of All Saints, Francis invites Catholics and Anglicans not to resign before divisions, but to commit to reconciliation. “Our relations are good, theological unity comes on the way”
In the past, we looked at each other “with suspicion and hostility”, today “we recognize ourselves as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ.” And as such – as “friends and pilgrims” – “we wish to walk together.”
Among neo-Gothic columns and marble arches of the Anglican Church of All Saints, hidden away in what was once known as the “English quarter” of Rome, Francesco – the first Pope to ever enter its fray– shows the path to increase ecumenical relations between Catholics and Anglicans. A past to be left behind and a future to be built together, “free from prejudices”, and with “humility” for the challenges of our time.
The Starting point is humility, that “not only is a beautiful virtue,” but “is a matter of identity,” the Pope said. “To become humble is to decentralize, recognize ourselves in the need of God, begging for mercy”.
“We are vessels of clay” Pope Francis stated taking cue from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinth. “Good’s mercy is our most valuable good, our treasure.” And added “A treasure in a vessel that can easily crack.” St. Paul is “criticized for his weaknesses,”
and “has not always had an easy relationship with the community of Corinth, but he goes beyond the differences of the past” and “does not resign before the divisions and spends himself for reconciliation.” The pope continues in his Homily “St. Paul teaches that only by recognizing ourselves as weak clay vessels, as sinners always in need of mercy, then God’s treasure will poured into us and into others through us. Otherwise, we will only be filled with our own treasures, which become corrupt and rot in seemingly beautiful vessels”.
The Pope expressed word of wisdom for the work that the Anglican Capitoline community plays along with other English speaking communities for the poor, the sick and the marginalized of Rome, “A true and solid communion grows and is strengthened when we act together for those in need” he said.
On behalf of Catholics and Anglicans, Pope Francis then expressed his gratitude “because, after centuries of mutual suspicion, we are now able to recognize the fruitful grace of Christ is at work also in others.” “We thank the Lord – he adds – because among Christians has grown the desire for a closer relationship, which manifests itself in praying together and in a common witness to the Gospel, especially through various forms of service.”
The path towards full communion “may appear slow and uncertain” at times, but today’s meeting wants to give new impetus, Bergoglio said.
Arrived on time at 4 pm, the Pope was welcomed by the Rev. Robert Innes, Anglican bishop for Europe, and by Chaplain David Boardman. A large crowd of worshipers and passers had awaited him for a few hours at the front door. The Popes first act in the All Saint’s Church – a former Augustinian monastery – was the blessing with oil and incense of an icon of Christ the Savior specially commissioned for the bicentennial of All Saints to artist Ian Knowles, director of the Bethlehem Center icon.
Among the most significant moments of the visit was when Pope replied off the cuff to some questions. After announcing that he is studying a trip to South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby , Pope Francis answers to Margherita, a student of art history at the Sapienza, who asked about the relationship between Catholics and Anglicans today. “The relations between Catholics and Anglicans are good!” Exclaimed impetuously Francis, “We see ourselves as brothers and sisters. It is true that in history there have been bad things, however no one can “rip a piece of history and take it as if it were an icon. It is not right; it must be read in the hermeneutics of history. We have moved on. “
“We do not do everything the same way” Bergoglio continued “but we walk together”. He then suggested a formula: “I don’t know whether it can be said historically, but it will help us understand: with two steps forward and half a step back, but we do have to move on. And we have to continue like this. For the moment it is fine, every day has its concerns. “
The second question was asked by Jane, Australian professor of English at the Sapienza who cited Benedict XVI’s admonition on the risk of giving, in ecumenical dialogue, priority to collaboration within social action rather than following the most demanding path of theological agreement.Bergoglio replied, “I do not know the context in which Benedict XVI has said this, and it’s hard for me to answer.” Then he cited Athenagoras “famous joke,” to Paul VI: “We shall work towards unity among us and leave all theologians on an island so they can think”.
What is the core? “What Benedict said is true: we must look for the theological dialogue to seek the roots of the sacraments and other things on which we disagree,” the Argentine Pope said. “But this cannot be done in a laboratory; it has to be done on the way… We are walking on the way and on the way we can also discuss.” Meanwhile, “we help each other in need, in life, in the service of charity to the poor, in the hospitals, in wars. The Ecumenical dialogue is done while walking on the way, theological things are discussed on the way. “
Finally, the Bishop of Rome, encouraged by Ernst, a Nigerian seminarian soon deacon, welcomes the “vitality” and “creativity” of the young churches of the southern hemisphere, from which – he says –the churches in Europe could take example. “Young Churches have a different vitality because they are young. They are looking for a way to express themselves differently. For example, a liturgy here in Rome or in London or Paris is not the same as an “in Africa.
“Young churches need to collaborate” and “Ecumenism for them is easier,” admits the Pope. This does not mean being “superficial”, they do not negotiate faith.” It simply means, “They have more courage than us who are not so young.” And from this new “wealth”, Europe could benefit. Precisely for this reason, according to the Pope, “it would do well to send some seminarians to do pastoral experiences in the young churches, and vice versa. It would be a great wealth. “
At the end of the function, there was the official signing of an agreement formalizing a partnership between the Church of All Saints and the Catholic parish of All Saints in Rome. “A good sign,” says the Pope, of the will to move towards full communion. Another “good sign” were the gifts given to the Pope. The Anglican community offered its typical products: homemade orange marmalade and “Simnel cake”, a cake on top of which there are 11 dough balls, which represent the twelve apostles minus Judas.