New director of Anglican Centre in Rome says we must act ‘as if we are already one’

05 October 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

Hidden away on Rome’s Via della Scrofa is an old palazzo which has been converted into a guesthouse for Holy See diplomats and bishops visiting Rome. 

The Domus Internationalis “Paulus VI” is where Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio stayed before he entered the conclave that elected him Pope. And soon after his election he returned to the guesthouse – previously known as the Casa del Clero – to pay his bill. 

It is here that Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi (pictured), the new director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, has been staying since his arrival, while refurbishments take place at the centre’s home in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. In what might be described as an appropriate ecumenical gesture he was given the same room Cardinal Bergoglio stayed in before the conclave.  

“When I told my daughter where I was staying she said ‘Dad, is that where you are heading?’” he joked when we met. 

A former Primate of the Anglican Church of Burundi, he is an experienced ecumenist who is hoping to build on the work of his predecessor, Archbishop David Moxon, and his job also includes being the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See.

He will be formally inducted into his role later this month at a ceremony on 26 October in Rome led by Archbishop Justin Welby, at the Oratory of San Francesco Saverio “del Caravita.”

The new director grew up as an Anglican in Burundi, a majority Catholic country in Francophone Africa, and later studied theology at Ridley Hall and St John’s College Cambridge, and then received a masters in diplomacy at Lincoln College, Oxford. After ordination he served in the government of  Burundi rising to become chief of staff of President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, who was later deposed in a coup. 

Archbishop Ntahoturi said the experience of working in government “showed me a different side of life”, and later on he served as vice-chairman of the country’s truth and reconciliation commission. Burundi remains unstable due to a long running civil war between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Casualties included a papal ambassador, Archbishop Michael Courtney who was killed in 2003, after trying to bring about peace between the two sides.  

It is the archbishop’s hope to promote justice and reconciliation in his new job. 

“I would like to continue this ministry, which of course is the ministry of the Church,” he explains adding it is one of the major concerns for Archbishop Welby. “With the Roman Catholic Church, I want us to see what we can do together so that the world may live peacefully, and so that we promote justice and peace in the various regions that we work in. And here I mean the great lake region of Africa: Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and east Africa.” He pointed out that in Sudan both Anglican and Catholic Churches are trying to “contribute to the well being of the people” 

The Pope has said he plans to visit war-torn South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury, although the trip has been suspended due to a worsening security situation and concern that a visit could be used to legitimise one or other party to the conflict. South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011, has been locked in conflict between ethnic groups aligned mainly to government or rebels.  

When it comes to the theological differences between Anglicans and Catholics, the archbishop says he is heartened by the Pope’s call for Christians to act as if they are already united. “That is where the strength of the Church and the gospel lies: walking together” he explained.

“There are various interpretations of the parable where Jesus says I am the vine and you are the branches. For me I take the Church and the Churches as we know them, as branches of the same vine. Therefore the Church of Jesus Christ should witness to the Church as one, as if we are already united.”

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