26 January 2024, The Tablet

Bishops commissioned to ‘joint witness’ at the Tomb of St Paul

Anglican and Catholic bishops were gathered in Rome for the “Growing Together” summit during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Bishops commissioned to ‘joint witness’ at the Tomb of St Paul

Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury shared the sign of peace with the pairs of Catholic and Anglican bishops gathered for the “Growing Together” symposium.
Neil Turner / IARCCUM

The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned Catholic and Anglican bishops “to engage in joint mission and witness” at the Tomb of St Paul on 25 January.

The commissioning took place during a service of ecumenical vespers at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, the site of the apostle’s burial, marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the feast of his conversion.

Pope Francis referenced Pope Gregory the Great’s commission to St Augustine of Canterbury in 597 in his address to the bishops.

“Today, with gratitude to God for our sharing in the Gospel, we send you forth, beloved co-workers for the kingdom of God, so that wherever you carry out your ministry, you may together bear witness to the hope that does not deceive and the unity for which our Saviour prayed,” he said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called on the bishops to make the ministry of reconciliation their “special care”.

“May your ministry alongside one another as Catholics and Anglicans be for the world a foretaste of the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ for which we pray this day,” he said.

The Pope and the archbishop shared the sign of peace with each of the bishops during the hymn Ubi caritas, which calls for efforts “to keep our minds free of division” and for “an end to malice, strife and quarrels”.

The assembled bishops were in Rome for the “Growing Together” symposium, an ecumenical summit run by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).  Each was paired with a bishop from their country of the other denomination.

A similar service, where the Pope and Archbishop Welby commissioned pairs of bishops to work together, took place during the first IARCCUM summit in 2016.

Clergy from other Churches attended the vespers, including Metropolitan Polycarp of Italy representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In his homily, Pope Francis denounced the “distorted religiosity based on getting rather than giving” of the lawyer in Luke’s gospel whose question – “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” – prompts Jesus to say “You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbour as yourself” – the text taken for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“Only that love, which does not appeal to the past in order to remain aloof or to point a finger, only that love which in God’s name puts our brothers and sisters before the ironclad defence of our own religious structures, only that love will unite us,” said Francis.  “First our brothers and sisters, then the structures.”

Bishop David Hamid, a suffragan bishop of the Anglican Diocese in Europe and co-chair of the “Growing Together” summit, said it was “truly an historic gathering” for the bishops.

“It calls and challenges them to go home and work with colleague bishops, as well as with clergy and parishes to join more profoundly in common mission in our fragmented world, sharing the love of Christ in their communities and taking steps to deepen our fellowship as we journey towards the visible unity which is Christ’s will.”

His Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Canada, said the commissioning reflected progress in Church unity.

“It is a sign of the great ecumenical work of recent decades, growing in understanding and in respect, that today we experience our Churches’ leaders jointly sending forth Anglican and Catholic bishops to carry out their mission, and wherever possible to carry it out together.”

Earlier in the day, the bishops attended an Anglican eucharist at the Church of San Bartolomeo, where Archbishop Welby preached on the need for “the miracle of unity amid enormous, inhuman, unimaginable difference”.

“We must find ways of being joyful in our disagreement, generous in our disputes, hospitable in our differences with one another, in character, in appearance, in temperament and in culture,” he said.

San Bartolomeo, a ninth-century church now dedicated to the martyrs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, houses relics of non-Catholic martyrs, including of the Anglican Melanesian Brotherhood, who were murdered in the Solomon Islands in 2003.

On Friday, the bishops departed Rome to resume the summit in Canterbury.

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