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Pope Francis paid tribute to his late friend the evangelical Bishop Tony Palmer, saying in a special message for his Requiem Mass that he had left an important legacy for Christian unity.
Palmer, who was a co-founder of the Ark Community, a group of Evangelical charismatics within the Anglican Episcopal tradition, was killed in a motorcycle accident in the UK last month.
He came to prominence after persuading the Pope to broadcast a video message to a conference of Evangelical leaders in Fort Worth, Texas earlier this year.
At the requiem on Wednesday at the Catholic church of St John the Evangelist in Bath, his widow, Emiliana read out the Pope’s tribute.
It said: “We were great friends. His fraternal and filial friendship did me a lot of good. I have the memory of a free man who lived in the freedom of the spirit. Impatient, he searched tirelessly for the unity of the body of Christ which is lacerated and broken because of our sins.”
It went on: “His patrimony is precious for everyone. It is a patrimony that is the will of Jesus expressed in John 17. Those of us who love him feel impelled by his zeal to follow in his footsteps, to walk without rest preparing the bride, one single bride, for the bridegroom who will come.”
Palmer, who was in his early fifties, became friends with the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio when travelling in Argentina, and described the Pope as a “spiritual father”.
He was ordained into the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, became interested in Christian unity following an encounter with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rome.
His Italian widow is a Catholic, as are his two children, and he regularly attended Mass with his family.
Born in Britain, he moved to South Africa where he discovered his Christian faith through the evangelical church.
After Francis’ election as Pope, the two met again twice: once in January of this year when he persuaded Francis to film the video message and again on 24 June, when he introduced a high-profile delegation of evangelical ministers to him.
After his requiem Palmer buried in the Catholic cemetery in Bath.