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Walking together in Mission

Archbishop Philip reflects on the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby

It would be hard not to be a little overawed by the size and the reach of the Roman Catholic Church when you are in the Vatican. It is also easy to see why Francis, Bishop of Rome would choose to live in simpler and more communal surroundings than the Apostolic Palace. 

The gathering of Anglican Primates in Rome was in support of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to met with Pope Francis in celebration of the progress that has been made in our relationship since the historic meeting between Archbishop Michael Ramsay and Pope Paul VI in 1966.

The message from the Pope and the Archbishop was clear, we have to walk together in mission.

Whatever might be our differences the challenges are too great to let them get in the way of promoting the way of Christ in a broken and needy world. Walking together we will talk, and in the walking and talking we will build friendship in Christ, and in that friendship we will discover unexpected ways through our differences. We will learn from each other and we will be changed for the better by the experience.

That walking and talking together has been given new impetus in the establishment of formal covenanted partnerships in mission between Bishops’ Conferences and Houses of Bishops in 19 regional areas including our own. In our case we were represented by Cardinal John Dew and Bishop Ross Bay who met for a week in Canterbury and in Rome developing strategies for joint mission. This practical working together which is the focus of the work of IARCCUM (the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity in Mission) would not have been possible without the years of diligent work on doctrinal differences undertaken by ARCIC I (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) and ARCIC II and now ARCIC III.  But, say both Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury, now is the time for acting and working together in faith. This will inform further doctrinal conversations.

It will be important that our walking and our talking become even more honest, more robust. Because the experience of these few days of celebration raised some significant challenges. 

The first morning we were invited to an excellent Symposium where the theme was “50 Years of Walking Together, developing new directions in Anglican Roman Catholic relations”. The three main sessions were led by pairs of speakers. In two of those sessions the pairs of Roman Catholic and Anglicans were gender balanced. But while Professor Anna Rowlands and Dr Paula Gooder were key note speakers the lack of all sorts of balances was obvious. In-fact some 11 people addressed us of which only those two were women. When the poor gender balance was raised Paula Gooder responded in a polite but firm way. We have a long way to go she said.

The whole Symposium however also felt extraordinarily euro centric. There were no non-European or non North American presenters until the last two who spoke from the perspective of the middle east (Lebanese) and a Canadian who has lived and worked in the Horn and Africa for some years - speaking on the refugee crisis and living with Islam. They had to speak rapidly and in bullet points because a previous speaker had gone over time. In front of a demonstrably multi cultural and multilingual audience these imbalances jarred for me.

I was struck by how different the perspective is when you are from a society that has been colonized and where the proclamation of the Gospel and the establishment of the Church has been an arm of that colonization and where you have to work daily at the consequences of that in relationship to the indigenous people of the land. That perspective was entirely absent. There was a polite condescension that was palpable to me. There was also a complete absence of urgency around global warming - a tweek here, a little careful recycling there - seemed to be the order of the day. Several primates - Africa, Bangladesh, Pacific have communities who are running out, or have run out of time to preserve their homes. 

To be fair Archbishop Welby sought hard at the end of the Symposium to redress some of this, speaking compellingly of Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific. 

And, over the next two days, Pope Francis and the Archbishop certainly placed weight in their various homilies and addresses where it needed to be; on the urgent needs of a suffering world.

Much to celebrate and much to do as we seek to live authentically into the challenges of the Gospel.

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Story Published: 8th of October - 2016

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