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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Pope Francis at All Saints: we recognize one another as we truly are, brothers and sisters in Christ

The joy of the day can be found on the Pope’s face. Father Jonathan Boardman, the Chaplain of All Saints Anglican Church in Rome, several years ago, invited the Pope to come to the church as part of the 200th anniversary of the Anglican community in the city. It is a tribute to Fr Jonathan that this visit has come about and we are thankful to him, his Churchwardens and the many volunteers who prepared for the day and who took part in the service. Indeed the occasion has taken on an international and ecumenical importance.

It was an unprecedented moment. This was the first time a Pope has visited an Anglican parish church. Pope John Paul II visited Canterbury cathedral. Pope Benedict visited Westminster Abbey. But the visit of Pope Francis to All Saints Church on Sunday has made ecumenical history. And from the smile on the pope’s face it was clear that he was delighted to be making that history.

During the service the Pope blessed an icon of our Saviour. He referred to this icon in his homily. “Christ looks at us, and his gaze upon us is one of salvation, of love and compassion. It is the same merciful gaze which pierced the hearts of the Apostles, who left the past behind and began a journey of new life, in order to follow and proclaim the Lord. In this sacred image, as Jesus looks upon us, he seems also to call out to us, to make an appeal to us: “Are you ready to leave everything from your past for me? Do you want to make my love known, my mercy?””

He then led the congregation in repeating their baptismal promises, and sprinkled them with blessed water to remind us of the unity given to us all in our baptism.

Also during his homily the Pope said “As Catholics and Anglicans, we are humbly grateful that, after centuries of mutual mistrust, we now recognize that the fruitful grace of Christ is at work in others….. At times, progress on our journey towards full communion may seem slow and uncertain, but today we can be encouraged by our gathering. For the first time, a Bishop of Rome is visiting your community. It is a grace and also a responsibility: the responsibility of strengthening our ties, to the praise of Christ, in the service of the Gospel and of this city.”As a first act in strengthening those ties at the end of the service our Anglican parish of All Saints signed a twinning agreement with the RC parish of Ognisanti in the city, precisely to explore ways jointly to worship, study, and serve the needy.

Fr Jonathan reads the twinning agreement
At the end of the service the pope spontaneously answered three questions put to him by members of the congregation. The answers he provided are very rich indeed. The full text and that of his homily can be found here and here.

As someone who has worked both on the international theological dialogue wth the Roman Catholic Church as a previous Co-Secretary of ARCIC, and who now is the Co-Chairman of the international unity and mission commission, IARCCUM, I warmed to the Pope’s answer to a question about theological dialogue and joint mission and work. Both are necessary. He said, “the theological dialogue must be sought also to seek the roots . . . on so many things on which we are not yet in agreement . . . However, this can’t be done in a laboratory: it must be done walking, along the way. We are on the way and on the way we also have these discussions….The ecumenical dialogue is done on the way, because the ecumenical dialogue is a path, and theological things are discussed on the way”.

So we continue on that way together with fresh hope and encouragement.

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