(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Thursday with members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, telling them that the cause of unity is not an optional undertaking. The 18 Anglican and Catholic members of the commission, known as ARCIC III, are holding their annual encounter this week at an ancient retreat house in the Alban hills, south of Rome. Philippa Hitchen reports
The original Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission was founded in the wake of a historic meeting in 1966 between a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury - the first since the Reformation and the Church of England’s breakaway from Rome. On that occasion, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey inaugurated a dialogue “ founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions” which they hoped would lead to “unity in truth for which Christ prayed”.
Meeting with the members of ARCIC III, Pope Francis noted the current session is studying the relationship between the universal Church and the local Church – a question central to his own reform programme - with particular reference to difficult decision making over moral and ethical questions.
These discussions, the Pope said, and the forthcoming publication of five jointly agreed statements from the previous phase of the dialogue, remind us that ecumenism is not a secondary element in the life of the Church and that the differences which divide us must not be seen as inevitable. Despite the seriousness of the challenges, he said we must trust even more in the power of the Spirit to heal and reconcile what may not seem possible to our human understanding.
Finally Pope Francis highlighted the powerful testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions who have been victims of violence and persecution. The blood of these martyrs, he said, will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment to fulfill the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one.
Please see below the full text of Pope Francis’ address to the members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. It is a pleasure to be with you, the members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. In these days you are gathered for a new session of your dialogue, which is now studying the relationship between the universal Church and the local Church, with particular reference to processes for discussions and decision making regarding moral and ethical questions. I cordially welcome you and wish you a successful meeting.
Your dialogue is the result of the historic meeting in 1966 between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey, which gave rise to the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. On that occasion, they both prayed with hope for "a serious dialogue which, founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, [would] lead to that unity in truth for which Christ prayed" (The Common Declaration by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey, Rome, 24 March 1966).
We have not yet reached that goal, but we are convinced that the Holy Spirit continues to move us in that direction, notwithstanding new difficulties and challenges. Your presence here today is an indication of how the shared tradition of faith and history between Anglicans and Catholics can inspire and sustain our efforts to overcome the obstacles to full communion. Though we are fully aware of the seriousness of the challenges ahead, we can still realistically trust that together great progress will be made.
2. Shortly you will publish five jointly agreed statements of the second phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, with commentaries and responses. I offer my congratulations for this work. This reminds us that ecumenical relations and dialogue are not secondary elements of the life of the Churches. The cause of unity is not an optional undertaking and the differences which divide us must not be seen as inevitable. Some wish that, after fifty years, greater progress towards unity would have been achieved. Despite difficulties, we must not lose heart, but we must trust even more in the power of the Holy Spirit, who can heal and reconcile us, and accomplish what humanly does not seem possible.
3. There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions: it is the testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions, victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess. The blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment, a fervent desire to fulfill the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one (cf. Jn 17:21). The witness by these our brothers and sisters demands that we live in harmony with the Gospel and that we strive with determination to fulfill the Lord's will for his Church. Today the world urgently needs the common, joyful witness of Christians, from the defence of life and human dignity to the promotion of justice and peace.
Together let us invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to be able to respond courageously to "the signs of the times" which are calling all Christians to unity and common witness. May the Holy Spirit abundantly inspire your work.