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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pope Francis' visit to the Anglican Church of All Saints in Rome

At 3:50pm this afternoon, the Holy Father, Pope Francis paid a visit to the Anglican community at the Church of All Saints in Rome in order to celebrate the 200th anniversary of that community.

The rite, which was characterized by elements typical to the Anglican tradition of sung Vespers, began with greetings and words of welcome offered by the Right Reverend Robert Innes, Anglican Bishop for Europe ad by Reverend Jonathan Boardman, Chaplain of the Anglican Church.

Then, the Holy Father blessed an icon of Christ the Saviour with holy oil and incense, and together with the Bishops who were gathered there, lit candles in front of the icon.  The celebration continued with the renewal of baptismal promises led in their respective languages by Pope Francis and by Reverend Innes.  After a reading from the letter to the Corinthians, the Holy Father shared his homily.  Finally, before exchanging gifts, the Holy Father held a dialogue with a few members of the Congregation.

Welcome to His Holiness Pope Francis
offered by the Right Reverend Robert Innes

It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Your Holiness to the Church of England Parish of All Saints this afternoon. This is the first time that a Roman Pontiff has visited an Anglican parish in his own diocese of Rome and so it is an historic occasion.

Of course, Your Holiness is no stranger to Anglican-Catholic relationships. You have had three formal meetings with our Primate, Justin, and your friendship towards him is something our communion values greatly. In October last year during Vespers at San Gregorio al Cielo you presented him with a replica of the pastoral staff given by Pope Saint Gregory to Saint Augustine of Canterbury. That was a deeply significant symbolic act.  Also at that service, pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops were jointly commissioned by Your Holiness and Archbishop Justin. I was one of the Anglican bishops and the memory of that occasion will stay with me forever.

Your Holiness, I would like to express gratitude to God for your global leadership, and for the particular inspiration you have been to those of us in the Anglican Communion. You have recalled us to the importance of ministry amongst the poor. You have stood alongside the refugee and the migrant. You have initiated work on modern slavery 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.

Your holiness, we are deeply honoured by your presence with us today. We hope and pray that this will 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.

Address by Reverend Jonathan Boardman
Chaplain of All Saints’

Holy Father it is with special pleasure that we from this Anglican community of All Saints welcome and greet you this day as Bishop of Rome together with our own beloved bishops, and together with so many other ecumenical friends. We are immensely honoured and humbled that you wish to mark our 200th anniversary with this pastoral visit.

When the divisions began that led to the estrangement between our confessions describing your office as that of the Bishop of Rome was used by my co-religionists as an insult or an attempt to belittle it. Today for us recognizing your unique role in witnessing to the gospel and leading Christ's Church it is ironic that what we once used in a cruel attempt to put you in your place has become the key to your pastoral kindness in being alongside us and so many other Christians around the world. I myself was present at your enthronement in the cathedral church of the Lateran as this city's bishop and will never forget the impact of your preaching, grace and mercy on that Good Shepherd Sunday in 2013’s Easter season.

It has become an often repeated story that when your much beloved predecessor Pope Saint John XXIII received Archbishop Fisher in his private apartments he was with just a little difficulty able to point out our little spire amongst the many impressive domes and bell towers of Rome: he quipped, You see, Your Grace, we too live in the shadow cast by Anglicanism. Today the example you set with your generous visit reveals that there are no shadows here but only the great joy of Christ's light showing us the path which we must walk together so that God's will may be done and so that Christians should be one.

In this place the light is diffused through coloured glass depicting the saints who cheer us on as we take this path. Amongst them is Saint Bede, the Anglo Saxon polymath monk whose writings provided you with your own episcopal motto miserando atque eligendo. He is a saint from before our divisions. I wish to end my words of welcome to your holiness by invoking the genius of a particularly ANGLICAN Saint well known to us but not so well known to our fellow pilgrims from other traditions.

George Herbert was a priest and a poet who lived his short life across the last decades of the 16th and first of the 17th centuries. He is commemorated at our altars tomorrow. His writings reveal a mystical appreciation of the Christian Faith which made him in some ways the model of ANGLICAN pastoral practice and he is referred to as an example so often that many pastors - jokingly - could wish that he had never been born. He writes in his poetic sequence The Temple about the church stained glass windows and how they resemble the preacher of the gospel: I use the translation by Roberto Sanesi.
The Windows 
Lord, how can man preach Thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:

Yet in Thy temple thou dost him afford

This glorious and transcendant place,
To be a window, through Thy grace. 
But when Thou dost anneal in glasse Thy storie,
Making Thy life to shine within

The holy preachers;
then the light and glorie More rev’rend grows,
and morte doth win;
Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin. 
Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and minle, bring

A strong regards ans aw;
but speech alone Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience, ring.   -George Herbert
Holy Father, as today you share the grace and mercy of God’s Word with us we know and love you well enough to be sure that it will be far from watrish, bleak and thin: We pray for you, Holy Father, and thank God for you.

The icon of Christ the Saviour, which was blessed during the papal visit, was commissioned and made for the 200th anniversary of the church of All Saints by British artist Ian Knowles, who is the Director of the Bethlehem Icon Centre. It was officially received by the congregation of All Saints during a Choral Evensong on Thursday February 23, and placed in the south aisle of the church.

Homily of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
shared during the celebration of Evensong

Dear brothers and sisters,

I wish to thank you for your gracious invitation to celebrate this parish anniversary with you. More than two hundred years have passed since the first public Anglican liturgy was held in Rome for a group of English residents in this part of the city. A great deal has changed in Rome and in the world since then. In the course of these two centuries, much has also changed between Anglicans and Catholics, who in the past viewed each other with suspicion and hostility. Today, with gratitude to God, we recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism. As friends and pilgrims we wish to walk the path together, to follow our Lord Jesus Christ together.

You have invited me to bless the new icon of Christ the Saviour. 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?

His gaze of divine mercy is the source of the whole Christian ministry. The Apostle Paul says this to us, through his words to the Corinthians which we have just heard. He writes: Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart (2 Cor 4:1). Our ministry flows forth from the mercy of God, which sustains our ministry and prevents it losing its vigour.

Saint Paul did not always have an easy relationship with the community at Corinth, as his letters show. There was also a painful visit to this community, with heated words exchanged in writing. But this passage shows Paul overcoming past differences. By living his ministry in the light of mercy received, he does not give up in the face of divisions, but devotes himself to reconciliation. 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 Saint Paul did in one of the very first Christian communities.

How does Saint Paul grapple with this task, where does he begin? With humility, which is not only a beautiful virtue, but a question of identity. Paul sees himself as a servant, proclaiming not himself but Christ Jesus the Lord (2 Cor 4:5). And he carries out this service, this ministry according to the mercy shown him (2 Cor 4:1): 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. Becoming humble 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. A past president of the World Council of Churches described Christian evangelization as a beggar telling another beggar where he can find bread. I believe Saint Paul would approve. 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.

This is our most precious good, our treasure, and it is in this context that Paul introduces one of his most famous images, one we can all apply to ourselves: we have this treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). We are but earthen vessels, yet we keep within us the greatest treasure in the world. The Corinthians knew well that it was foolish to preserve something precious in earthen vessels, which were inexpensive but cracked easily. Keeping something valuable in them meant running the risk of losing it. Paul, a graced sinner, humbly recognized that he was fragile, just like an earthen vessel. But he experienced and knew that it was precisely there that human misery opens itself to God’s merciful action; the Lord performs wonders. That is how the extraordinary power of God works (2 Cor 4:7).

Trusting in this humble power, Paul serves the Gospel. Speaking of some of his adversaries in Corinth, he calls them super apostles (2 Cor 12:11), perhaps, and with a certain irony, because they had criticized him for his weaknesses even as they considered themselves observant, even perfect. Paul, on the other hand, teaches that only in realizing we are weak earthen vessels, sinners always in need of mercy, can the treasure of God be poured into us and through us upon others. Otherwise, we will merely be full of our treasures, which are corrupted and spoiled in seemingly beautiful vessels. If we recognize our weakness and ask for forgiveness, then the healing mercy of God will shine in us and will be visible to those outside; others will notice in some way, through us, the gentle beauty of Christ’s face.

At a certain point, perhaps in the most difficult moment with the community in Corinth, the Apostle Paul cancelled a visit he had planned to make there, also foregoing the offerings he would have received from them (2 Cor 1:15-24). Though tensions existed in their fellowship, these did not have the final word. The relationship was restored and Paul received the offering for the care of the Church in Jerusalem. The Christians in Corinth once again took up their work, together with the other communities which Paul visited, to sustain those in need. This is a powerful sign of renewed communion. The work that your community is carrying out together with other English-speaking communities here in Rome can be viewed in this light. True, solid communion grows and is built up when people work together for those in need. Through a united witness to charity, the merciful face of Jesus is made visible in our city.

As Catholics and Anglicans, we are humbly grateful that, after centuries of mutual mistrust, we are now able to 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. 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 service of the Gospel and of this city.

Let us encourage one another 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. A good sign of this desire is the twinning taking place today between your parish of All Saints and All Saints Catholic parish. May the saints of every Christian confession, fully united in the Jerusalem above, open for us here below the way to all the possible paths of a fraternal and shared Christian journey. Where we are united in the name of Jesus, he is there (cf Mt 18:20), and turning his merciful gaze towards us, he calls us to devote ourselves fully in the cause of unity and love. May the face of God shine upon you, your families and this entire community!

At the conclusion of the liturgy, prior to exchanging gifts, the Holy Father held a dialogue with a number of members of the Congregation.  The translation of the questions and answers follows:

Questions and responses

During our liturgy, many people enter into our church and marvel because it really looks like a Catholic church!.  Many Catholics have heard of King Henry VIII, but they are unaware of Anglican traditions and of the ecumenical progress that has taken place over this past half-century.  What would you like to say to them about the relationship between Catholics and Anglicans today?

Pope Francis' response:
It is true, the relationship between Catholics and Anglicans today is good, we love one another as brothers!  It is true that throughout history there are bad things everywhere, and to tear a piece of history and to carry it as though it were an icon of our relationships is not right.  One historical fact should be read in the hermeneutic of this moment, not with another hermeneutic.  I said that now, current relationships are good.  They have gone beyond, from the visit of primate Michael Ramsey, and even more ... But also in the saints, we have a common tradition of saints which your parish has sought to highlight.  Never, never have our two Churches, these two traditions denied the saints, the Christians who lived the Christian witness to that point.  And this is important.  But there have also been relationships of fraternity in brutal times, in difficult times, when there were times of mixed political, economic, religious power, where there was a process of rule cuius regio eius religio but even in those times, there were relationships.

In Argentina, I knew an old Jesuit, an old man, I was young but he was old, Father Guillermo Furlong Cardiff, born in the city of Rosario, in an English family; in his youth, he was an altar boy - he is a Catholic, from and English Catholic family - he was an altar boy in Rosario during the funeral of Queen Victoria, in the Anglican Church.  Even back then, there was this this relationship.  And relationships between Catholics and Anglicans are relationships - I don't know if historically we can say this, but it is a figure that helps us to think - two steps forward, half a step backward, two steps ahead, half a step backward ... That's the way it works.  And we must continue this process.

There is another thing that maintains the strong connections between our religious traditions: there are monks, monasteries.  And monks, whether they are Catholic or Anglican, are a great spiritual strength for our traditions.

Our relationships, I would say, have improved even more, and I am pleased, this is good.  But we don't do everything the same way ... We are walking together, making our way together.  For the moment, this is good.  Every day has its own concerns.  I don't know, these are some of my thoughts.  Thank you.

Your predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, warned about the risk in ecumenical dialogue of giving priority to collaboration in social action rather than following the more difficult path of theological agreement.  Apparently, you seem to prefer the opposite, that is to say walking and working together to achieve the goal of Christian unity.  Is this true?

Pope Francis' response:
I do not know the context in which Pope Benedict said that, I do not know the context and for that reason it is a bit difficult for me, I am a bit embarrassed to respond ... Did he wanted to say this or no ... Perhaps it was in the context of a discussion with theologians ... But I am not sure.  Both things are important.  That is certain.  Which of the two has priority? ... And on the other hand, there are the famous words of Patriarch Athenagoras - which is true because I posed the question to Patriarch Bartholomew and he told me: This is true -, when I said to Blessed Pope Paul VI: we should create union between us and put all the theologians on an island so they can think!  It was a joke but it was historically true because I doubt that Patriarch Bartholomew would have told me that it was true.  But what is at the core of all this, because I believe that what Pope Benedict said is true: we must seek theological dialogue in order to also seek out the roots ..., sui Sacramenti  ..., concerning so many things about which we have still not reached agreement ... But we can't do this in a laboratory: we must journey, through life.  We are on a journey and on the journey we also have these discussions.  Theologians have them.  But in the meanwhile, we help one another, we, each helping the other, in our time of need, in our lives, even spiritually we help one another.  For example, in twinning there was the fact of studying the Scriptures together, and helping each other in the service of charity, in serving the poor, in hospitals, in wars ... This is very important, it is very important.  We cannot have closed ecumenical dialogue.  No.  Ecumenical dialogue takes place on a journey, because ecumenical dialogue is a journey, and theological things are discussed on a journey.  I believe that this does not betray the mind of Pope Benedict, nor the reality of ecumenical dialogue.  This is how I understand it.  If I knew the context in which that expression was used, perhaps I could say otherwise, but this is what I can say.

All Saints church began with a group of British faithful, but it is now an international congregation with people from various countries.  In some regions of Africa, Asia or the Pacific, ecumenical relationships between the Churches are better and more creative than they are here in Europe.  What can we learn from the example of the Churches the South?

Pope Francis' response:
Thank you.  It is true.  The young Churches have a different vitality, because they are young.  They are looking for ways to express themselves differently.  For example, one liturgy here in Rome, or I think in London or in Paris is not the same as a liturgy in your country, where the liturgical ceremony, even Catholic, is expressed with joy, with dance and with many different forms that are part of those young Churches.  The young Churches have more creativity; and in the beginning, even here in Europe it was the same: we were seeking ... When you read, for example, the Didache, how the Eucharist was celebrated, meetings between Christians, there was great creativity.  Then it grew, the Church grew and became established, it grew into adulthood.  But the young Churches have more vitality and they also need to collaborate, and this is an important need.  For example, I am studying, my collaborators are studying the possibility of a voyage to South Sudan.  Why?  Because Bishops came: Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic Bishops, all three together to say to me: Please, come to South Sudan, only one day, but don't come alone, come with Justin Welby, that is to say with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  From them, from young Churches, this creativity has come.  And we are considering whether we can do this, if the situation is too dangerous there ... But we should do it because they, all three of them, together they want peace, and they are working together for peace ...  There is a very important anecdote.  When Blessed Paul VI celebrated the beatification of the martyrs of Uganda - a young Church - among the martyrs - there were catechists, all of them were young - some were Catholics ad others were Anglicans, and all of them were martyred by the same king, out of hatred for the faith and because they had not wanted to follow the dirty propositions of the king.  Paul VI was embarrassed because he said: I have to beatify these ones and the others, they are all martyrs.  But at that moment in the Catholic Church, it was not so possible to do that.  We had only just completed the Council ... But that young Church celebrates together today; even Paul VI in his homily, in his speech, during the Mass of beatification, chose to name the Anglican catechists as martyrs of the faith at the same level as the Catholic catechists.  This is what a young Church does.  The young Churches have courage, because they are young; like all young people who have more courage than we do ... we who are not so young!

And then, my experience.  I was a great friend of the Anglicans in Buenos Aires, because the area behind the parish of the Merced was connected with the Anglican Cathedral.  I was a great friend of Bishop Gregory Venables, a great friend.  But there is another experience: in the north of Argentina there are Anglican missions with the aboriginals and Catholic missions with the aboriginals, and the Anglican Bishops and the Catholic Bishops there work together, they teach.  And when people cannot go on Sundays to the Catholic celebrations, they go to Anglican celebrations, and Anglicans go to Catholic celebrations, because they don't want to spend their Sundays without a celebration; and they work together.  And here, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith knows this.  They do charitable work together.  And the two Bishops are friends and the two communities are friends.

I believe that this is a wealth that our young Churches can bring to Europe and to the Churches that have great traditions.  And they give us the strength of a tradition that is very, very accurate and thought out.  It is easier - it's true - ecumenism in young Churches.  That's true.  But I believe that - and here I return to the second question - perhaps ecumenism provides the most solid theology in a Church that is more mature, more aged in research, in the study of history, in theology, in liturgy, like the Church in Europe.  And I believe that it would be good for us, for both our Churches: from here, from Europe, to send some seminarians to live pastoral experiences in the young Churches, we would learn so much.  Some of them come, from the young Churches, to study in Rome, at least the Catholics, I know this.  But we can send some too, to learn from the young Churches; it would be a great source of riches in the sense that you have said.  Ecumenism is easier there, it is easier, which is not to say superficial, no, it does not mean superficial.  They do not negotiate faith and identity.  An aboriginal in northern Argentina will tell you: I am an Anglican.  But there is no bishop, there is no pastor, there is no reverend ... I want to praise God on Sunday and go to the Catholic cathedral, and vice versa.  These are treasures of the young Church.  I don't know, this is what I can tell you.
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