Catholics and Anglicans should work together as a "moral imperative" to advance the kingdom of God, in spite of their differences, the Vatican's de facto foreign secretary has said.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, said that in spite of shortcomings and "historical baggage", Anglicans and Catholics should be offering encouragement to each other, strengthening and confirming each other in all they would do for the "binding-up" of the wounds of the world.
He was delivering the homily at Chiesa di Sant Ignazio di Loyola in Rome, at a service to commission Archbishop Ian Ernest, who was formerly Bishop of Mauritius and Primate of the Anglican Church of the Indian Ocean, as the new Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Archbishop Gallagher said: "You do not need me to tell you, that our world faces today an unprecedented number of challenges on every front, no continent is excluded and safe havens are in short supply. Some may have tended to see ecumenical endeavour as a question of the Church, almost an internal Christian affair, in which our unity will be the motor for the growth or even survival of Christ’s Church.
"Given all we face today, given the urgency and precariousness of our situation, I would argue rather that ecumenical engagement is a moral imperative for all of us who are baptised in the name of the Blessed Trinity. We must proceed together as the one Body of Christ, not because it will nice or cosy to do so, but because we have to in response to the pressing needs of humanity."
Referring to his time at the Apostolic Nunciature in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, he said: "My memory recalls a scene of great peace and serenity, almost paradise, but now as then closer scrutiny reveals a different reality, for in both Burundi and the RDC there are serious political problems, which are provoking great suffering. Such conflicts are challenging, but easily overlooked in frustration amidst the numerous other issues that confront the international community today.
"Inevitably, we ask how the Christian should respond to such problems. What do we have to offer? What encouragement can we give to those all over the world who are facing situations that defy resolution, conventional wisdom and common sense. What do we say and do in these dangerous times?"
He first met the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who commissioned Archbishop Earnest, in Bujumbura when the Church of England cleric was working as a canon of Coventry Cathedral for peace and reconciliation in the continent’s French-speaking countries.
Archbishop Gallagher said: "Today, we are well aware of our limitations, imperfections and faults, and also of our sins both historic and actual. However, there is a danger that we allow ourselves to be caught in the head-lights of our own inadequacy, paralysed and incapable of action or reaction, and of indulging the thought that others are more fit for the task, perhaps even that we have had our day, and should leave things to others with new vision and ideas. But in so thinking are we not in danger of selling short, not ourselves, but Christ, and the inspirational power of his living Word and of his grace, and what of the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit and their power to renew and heal."
Relations between the two churches did not need to consist of conflict. "Glancing back to Africa, there as elsewhere it is true that our historical relations have too often been characterised by denominational rivalry, but not always. In East and Central Africa Anglicans and Catholics are proud of the witness and legacy of the Ugandan Martyrs, and in recent times we strive to work together whenever possible."
Last week Pope Francis announced he will be visiting South Sudan next year. After a private audience between the Pope and Archbishop Welby at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta guest house, before the commissioning service, it was confirmed that Archbishop Welby will be joining the Pope as had been hoped for the unprecedented visit. The visit should include both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, who led opposing sides in the civil war.
Archbishop Gallagher said in his homily: "The Holy Father and the Archbishop both nourish the hope of being able to act together for the benefit of the people of South Sudan. In so doing we continue the principle of common ministry and witness embraced in Liverpool by Bishop David Shepherd and Archbishop Derek Worlock, which is summed up in the title of their book: Better Together."
Anglican and other Christian leaders from the UK, the United States, Italy and Mauritius were at the service, which was attended by local diplomats and supporters of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, led the intercessions, which included prayers for peace in South Sudan. The ecclesiastical administrator of the Diocese of Mauritius, the Ven Sténio André, read the Old Testament lesson.