VATICAN CITY — During his Sunday visit to Rome’s Anglican parish of All Saints, Pope Francis voiced gratitude for the good relations Catholics and Anglicans now enjoy and said that on the path toward full communion, humility has to be the point of departure.
“(Humility) is not only a beautiful virtue, but a question of identity,” the Pope said in his Feb. 26 visit to All Saints.
He noted that in evangelizing the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul had to “grapple” with the fact that relations with the community weren’t always good. But when faced with the question of how to carry out the task despite ongoing tensions, “Where does he begin? With humility.”
“Paul sees himself as a servant, proclaiming not himself, but Christ Jesus, the Lord. And he carries out this service, this ministry according to the mercy shown him,” he said, adding that this ministry is done “not on the basis of his ability, nor by relying on his own strength, but by trusting that God is watching over him and sustaining his weakness with mercy.”
To become humble, he said, “means drawing attention away from oneself, recognizing one’s dependence on God as a beggar of mercy: This is the starting point so that God may work in us.”
Francis then quoted a former president of the World Council of Churches, who described Christian evangelization as “a beggar telling another beggar where he can find bread.”
“I believe St. Paul would approve,” he said, because “he grasped the fact that he was fed by mercy and that his priority was to share his bread with others: the joy of being loved by the Lord and of loving him.”
Pope Francis spoke to a crowd of both Catholic and Anglican faithful during his Feb. 26 visit, which marked the first time a Roman pontiff has set foot in an Anglican parish inside his own Diocese of Rome.
This visit coincided with the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican parish community in the heart of the Eternal City and consisted of a short choral Evensong service, during which the Pope blessed and dedicated an icon of “St. Savior” commissioned for the occasion.
During the ceremony, the symbolic “twinning” of All Saints Anglican Church with the Catholic parish of “Ognissanti” — the only Catholic parish in Rome dedicated to All Saints — also took place, forming strong ecumenical ties between the two.
Ognissanti is the parish where Blessed Paul VI, on March 7, 1965, celebrated the first Mass in Italian following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
After his arrival, Pope Francis was greeted by the church’s pastor, Rev. Johnathan Boardman, and Rev. Robert Innes, bishop of the Church of England Diocese in Europe.
In his greeting, Innes thanked Pope Francis for his “global leadership and for the particular inspiration you have been to those of us in the Anglican Communion,” particularly when it comes to the issues of the poor, migrants, refugees and human trafficking.
“Within Europe and our diocese, you have challenged members of the European Union to rediscover their Christian heritage and values. Your published work speaks far beyond Rome in addressing difficult ethical issues that face us all,” he said.
Innes voiced his hope and prayer that the Pope’s visit would be “one more small step in further strengthening the unity between our Churches and in celebrating the deep bonds of Anglican-Roman Catholic friendship that we already enjoy.”
After singing Evensong, Pope Francis gave a homily, during which he noted that “a great deal has changed” both in Rome and in the world since the parish’s founding 200 years ago.
“In the course of these two centuries, much has also changed between Anglicans and Catholics,” he said, noting that while in the past the Churches viewed each other “with suspicion and hostility,” today we recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism.”
Francis pointed to the icon he blessed, noting that when looking at it, Jesus wants “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?’”
“His gaze of Divine Mercy is the source of the whole Christian ministry,” the Pope said, and then turned to the ministry of St. Paul, particularly in the community of Corinth.
As the apostle’s letters show, he “did not always have an easy relationship” with the community in Corinth, the Pope said, noting that at one point there was even “a painful visit” during which “heated words” were exchanged in writing.
But by living his ministry in light of the mercy that he has received, St. Paul “does not give up in the face of divisions, but devotes himself to reconciliation,” Francis observed, explaining that Christians of different confessions must have the same attitude.
“When we, the community of baptized Christians, find ourselves confronted with disagreements and turn towards the merciful face of Christ to overcome it, it is reassuring to know that we are doing as St. Paul did in one of the very first Christian communities,” he said.
The Pope then noted how, at perhaps the most difficult moment, St. Paul canceled a trip he was planning to make and renounced the gifts he would have received.
However, while there were certainly tensions in their relationship, “these did not have the final word,” Francis said, explaining that the two communities eventually reconciled, and the Christians in Corinth eventually helped St. Paul in his ministry to the poor and needy.
“Solid communion grows and is built up when people work together for those in need,” he said, adding that, “through a united witness to charity, the merciful face of Jesus is made visible in our city.”
Pope Francis then voiced his gratitude that, after “centuries of mutual mistrust,” Catholics and Anglicans can now “recognize that the fruitful grace of Christ is at work also in others.”
“We thank the Lord that among Christians the desire has grown for greater closeness, which is manifested in our praying together and in our common witness to the Gospel, above all in our various forms of service,” he said.
Although the path to full communion can at times seem “slow and uncertain,” the Pope said the two communities ought to be encouraged by his visit to the Anglican parish and the joint prayer.
The visit, he said, “is a grace and also a responsibility: the responsibility of strengthening our ties, to the praise of Christ, in service of the Gospel and of this city.”
Francis closed his homily by encouraging both Catholics and Anglicans to work together “to become ever more faithful disciples of Jesus, always more liberated from our respective prejudices from the past and ever more desirous to pray for and with others.”
After his homily, Pope Francis took three questions from the congregation on the state of Catholic-Anglican relations today, his approach to relations versus that of his direct predecessor, Benedict XVI, and what Catholics and Anglicans can learn from the “creativity” of Churches in the global south, specifically Africa and Asia.
In his answer to the first question, the Pope noted that, despite a turbulent past, relations between Catholics and Anglicans today “are good. We see each other as brothers.” He added that monasteries and the Communion of Saints are two particular “strengths” the Churches have in common.
He also stressed the importance of not taking certain moments of history out of context and using them to damage current relations, saying “a historic fact must be read in the hermeneutic of that moment, not in another hermeneutic.”
The second question asked if Pope Francis, by emphasizing a strategy of “walking and working” together toward unity, was perhaps the opposite of Benedict XVI, who at one point warned that collaboration in social action shouldn’t take priority over theological matters.
Francis responded to the question with a joke told to him by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, that while the different Churches work together on other things, the theologians “can go to an island” and have their discussions there.
Theological questions are important, he said, noting that there are “many things in which we still don’t agree.”
But having this discussion “can’t be done in a laboratory; it has to be done walking,” he said, explaining that “we are on a journey.”
It’s important to have these theological discussions, “but in the meantime, we help each other” though acts of charity, such as serving the poor, migrants and refugees, he said, adding that “you can’t have ecumenical dialogue that is stopped. ... You have to do it walking.”
When responding to the third question, Pope Francis noted that “young Churches” in Africa and Asia do have “a different vitality because they are different, and they look for ways to express themselves differently.”
However, the “older Churches” in European countries also have their own benefits, he said, noting that they have had time to “mature” and deepen in many things, including theological and ecumenical questions.
The Pope acknowledged that young Churches “have more creativity,” just as the European Church did when it began, and said there is “a strong need” for the two, old and young, to collaborate together.
As an example, he revealed that he is considering a trip to South Sudan sometime this year and explained that the idea came from a recent visit of the heads of three major Christian churches in the country to Rome.
In October, Archbishop Paulino Luduku Loro of the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba traveled to Rome alongside Rev. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, archbishop of the Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, to explain the dire situation of their country and their joint collaboration in working to quell the effects of the crisis.
Pope Francis noted that, during his Oct. 27, 2016, meeting with the trio, they invited him to come, but told him, “Don’t do it alone” and requested that he make the trip alongside the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, primate of the Anglican Communion.
He said the trip hasn’t been confirmed, since the situation on the ground is so risky, but assured that it’s “being studied,” because each of the churches there “have the will to work for peace” together.
The Pope ended his answer to the question with the suggestion that, given the benefits of both the “old” and “young” Churches throughout the world, there be an exchange set up where priests from Europe travel to the “younger Churches” for a pastoral experience, rather than it always being the other way around.
“It would do us well,” he said. “You learn a lot.”