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Vatican not foreign soil to the archbishop of Canterbury

VATICAN (SE): “Your steps have not brought you to a foreign dwelling... we are pleased to open the doors to you and with the doors, our heart, pleased and honoured as we are... to welcome you, not as a guest or a stranger, but as a fellow citizen of the saints and the family of God,” Pope Francis said in greeting the Primate of All England and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby, to the Vatican on June 14.

In choosing the same greeting that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, uttered to Archbishop Welby’s predecessor as the archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, the pope also thanked his guest for praying for the bishop of Rome when he took possession of his cathedral in Canterbury on May 21.

Pope Francis pointed out that because the two began their current ministries at approximately the same time, he is anticipating a long and supportive relationship between them.

“The history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church is long and complex, and not without pain,” Pope Francis was quoted by the Vatican Information Service as saying to his guest.

“Recent decades, however, have been marked by a journey of rapprochement and fraternity, and for this we give heartfelt thanks to God. This journey has been brought about both via theological dialogue, through the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and via the growth of cordial relations at every level through shared daily lives in a spirit of profound mutual respect and sincere cooperation,” the pope continued.

The archbishop of Canterbury was accompanied on his journey to Rome by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, from Westminster archdiocese in London, which Pope Francis noted reflected a friendship that is even stronger than the bonds forged by the theological dialogue that has taken place.

He noted that this is something that could not have been anticipated at the start of the journey to a cooperative relationship between the two communions of faith.

“These firm bonds of friendship have enabled us to remain on course even when difficulties have arisen through our theological dialogue,” the pope continued.

In addressing the sticky issue of special dispensations being created within the Catholic Church to accommodate members of the Church of England who wish to become Catholic, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Welby.

He especially thanked Archbishop Welby for “the sincere efforts that the Church of England has made to understand the reasons that led... Pope Benedict to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans, who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church.”

He described the structure as enabling the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican Communion to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world.

Pope Francis told his guest that he viewed his visit as an expression of a search for unity between the two communions of faith, which is not prompted by any practical reason, but purely by a shared desire to do the will of God.

In inviting his guest to pray with him, the pope said, “Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.”

He added that he believes that the fruit of their shared prayer will be seen in the promotion of Christian values on the world stage, saying that he hopes that Christ will once again be seen as a reference point by the world on issues like the sacredness of life and the institution of marriage.

Pope Francis then returned to one of his favourite topics, social justice.

“Then there is the effort to achieve greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good. Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers,” he told Archbishop Welby.

He then thanked his Anglican counterpart for the contribution that he, personally, has made in the area of social justice in the world community.

“I know that Your Grace is especially sensitive to all these questions, in which we share many ideas and I am also aware of your commitment to foster reconciliation and resolution of conflicts between nations,” the pope continued in welcoming the head of the Anglican Communion to their first meeting and his first visit to the Vatican.

Pope Francis pointed especially to the joint ventures taken up by the Anglican Communion in cooperation with the Catholic Church in England.

Pointing to Archbishop Nichols, he said that together “you have urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict, such as would guarantee the security of the entire population, including the minorities, not least among whom are the ancient local Christian communities.”

He then thanked Archbishop Welby for the vision of Christianity that his communion shares with the Catholic Church, saying, “As you yourself have observed, we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony.”

He added that he believes that this shared vision makes it easier to put the Christian point of view forward on the world stage as a viable road towards peace.

He concluded by saying that unity is not of the making of human beings, but a gift from God. However, it is a gift that cannot be received without good will towards each other and recognition of shared values and faith.


“The unity we so earnestly long for,” concluded Pope Francis, “is a gift that comes from above and it is rooted in our communion of love with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit … May the merciful Father hear and grant the prayers that we make to him together.”

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