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Bishops team up for ecumenical mission

VATICAN (SE): Fifty years ago the Anglican Centre was set up in Rome as a result of an historical meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The golden anniversary was marked on October 5 with a joint declaration signed by Pope Francis and the current archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Justin Welby, declaring that together, Catholics and Anglicans will walk on an ecumenical mission towards those on the margins of society to bear witness to a shared faith and joy in the gospel.

The declaration expresses the belief that the shared faith between the two communions is stronger than the differences that divide, no matter how wide they may be.

The leaders of two commissions, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, complementary bodies that seek to promote the work of the two communions in giving witness together and coming to an agreement about ecclesial identity and mission, are coordinating the work.

On September 30, a group of Catholic and Anglican bishops arrived in Canterbury to live side by side. They took part in the liturgical life of Canterbury Cathedral and made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas á Becket, where Pope John Paul II prayed with Archbishop Robert Runcie.

The 36 bishops from 19 regions then proceeded to Rome on October 3 and joined Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby in an ecumenical vespers at the church of Ss. Andrew and Gregory on Caelian Hill, where they were mandated by the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury as special emissaries of the ecumenical mission.

“The mandate will authorise and equip them to promote a wider range of opportunities for parishes and dioceses, pastors, religious and Church leaders to work and witness together locally and nationally,” Archbishop Bernard Longley told the Catholic Herald prior to the gathering.

The mandate commissions them to develop joint programmes and projects to give witness, not side by side, but together, as one body.

The Anglican Communion News Service reported, “The service also saw the pope and archbishop exchange gifts as a sign of friendship—echoing the moment in 1966 when Pope Paul VI presented his papal ring to the archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey—a moment that ushered in a new era of dialogue.”

Pope Francis said at the landmark vespers prayer service, “It is in sharing the difficulties and joys of the ministry that we once again grow close to each other.”

He continued, “We recognise ourselves as brothers who belong to different traditions, but always are driven by the same gospel to undertake the same mission in the world.”

The pope summarised the purpose of the venture as coming to an understanding of two questions, “Why should we not do this with our Anglican brothers?” and “Can we bear witness to Jesus by acting together with our Catholic brothers?”

The declaration itself notes, “Fifty years ago our predecessors recognised 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.”

It continues saying that there are today some concerns that constitute serious obstacles to full unity, but stresses, “While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred.”

The two co-chairpersons of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission are Archbishop Longley, from England, and New Zealander, Archbishop David Moxon, the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

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