The Anglican Church should act as a bridge between Roman Catholicism and the rest of the Christian world, the Preacher to the Papal Household has told The Queen and senior Church of England clergy at the opening of the General Synod.
Roman Catholic Father Raniero Cantalamessa was invited to address the inauguration service at Westminster Abbey prior to the synod, which was officially opened by The Queen, who is supreme governor of the Church of England, at Church House in Westminster yesterday.
And he cited the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation as an opportunity to speak about unity between the various Christian churches.
"It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs," Fr Cantalamessa told the Anglican congregation.
"The situation has dramatically changed since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him.
Preacher to the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, speaks during the inauguration service prior to the General Synod, in Westminster Abbey (Andrew Dunsmore/Westminster Abbey)
“Unity is not a simple matter,” Fr Cantalamessa added. “One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what Pope Francis calls 'reconciled diversities'.
“Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel.
“In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one. Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God."
He added: "The Anglican Church has a special role in all of this. It has often defined itself as a 'via media', a middle way, between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity.
“From being a via media in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches.
The General Synod of the Church of England opened at Church House in Westminster yesterday (PA)
“The presence among you of a priest of the Catholic Church, in circumstances of such special significance, is a sign that something of the kind is already happening.”
Later, in his speech to the synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, continued the theme of unity and quoted Pope Francis three times from his addresses to the Synod on the Family in Rome last month.
He also told the CofE synod: “We are called to work together with all those, in this country and around the world, who are fellow members of the Church, baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity.
“Loving one another and working together is not a choice we are free to make or not to make. It is an obligation we are given.
“Within that huge, diverse and extraordinary body that is the Church of God in time and space, the Church of England is one part, and assembles in synods of various forms, including here in the General Synod, to walk together.”
The Queen, who officially opened the synod and attended the service before, also alluded to the need for the Anglican Communion to work with other forms of Christianity.
The Queen said at Church House: "St Paul reminds us that all Christians, as ambassadors for Christ, are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation.
"Spreading God's word and the onerous but rewarding task of peace-making and conflict resolution are important parts of that ministry.
"So too is the Church of England's particular vocation to work in partnership with those of other faiths and none, to serve the common good in this land."
She added: "This new synod will have to grapple with the difficult issues confronting our Church and our world. On some of these there will be many different views."
READ THE FULL TEXT OF FR RANIERO CANTALAMESSA'S HOMILY...
Subscribe today for all the latest analysis, homilies, speeches, news and comment. Click here for offers
The synod, which gathers every five years, is likely to face a number of controversial topics, including a dispute over funding reforms, the appointment of women to senior roles, sexuality and the use of military aggression in the fight against terrorists.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, kicked off the debate on terrorism in a statement after the opening.
“There will be aspects [of the war against extremism] that may involve the use of armed force in a quasi-policing form,” he wrote.
“We will differ over when that is right and wrong. At the heart of this conflict is theology. This conflict must be won for faith of any kind to have any reputation in the public mind.”