(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin
Welby, stressing the need to work and worship together in the search for reconciliation
and unity between the Catholic and Anglican communities. Philippa Hitchen was on hand
in the library of the Apostolic Palace to hear what the Pope and the Archbishop had
The promotion of common Christian values, the need for greater social justice and a commitment to reconciliation and conflict resolution: those were three key areas of cooperation that Pope Francis highlighted during his first meeting with the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who began his own ministry just two days after the papal inauguration in March this year. Stressing especially the need to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, the Pope said Christians can bring peace to the world – but only when they themselves live and work together in harmony.
The history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church, the Pope said, is “ complex and not without pain” But he said the theological dialogue, through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and the growth of friendships at every level, “have enabled us to remain on course even when great difficulties have arisen”. The Pope noted with gratitude the efforts of the Church of England to “understand the reasons” why Pope Benedict set up the Ordinariate for former Anglicans – a move which strained relations when the surprise announcement was made back in 2009.
In his words to the Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby spoke of the legacy of the previous pontiffs since the Second Vatican Council to the journey towards full Christian Unity. Wearing the episcopal ring, given by Paul VI to Archbishop Michael Ramsey back in 1966, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion said “it is only as the world sees Christians growing visibly in unity” that it will accept the divine message of peace and reconciliation.
After a half hour private conversation and a shared moment of prayer in the chapel of the Apostolic Palace, the two leaders set off, relaxed and smiling together, for lunch at the Santa Martha guesthouse in the Vatican where Pope Francis resides. It certainly seemed, in this first brief encounter at least, that there is much shared ground for growing together in service to the common good.
Below, please find the complete translation of Pope Francis' discourse at the meeting, followed by the complete text of Archbishop Welby's address:
Your Grace, Dear Friends,
On the happy occasion of our first meeting, I make my own the words of Pope Paul VI, when he addressed Archbishop Michael Ramsey during his historic visit in 1966: “Your steps have not brought you to a foreign dwelling ... we are pleased to open the doors to you, and with the doors, our heart, pleased and honoured as we are ... to welcome you ‘not as a guest or a stranger, but as a fellow citizen of the Saints and the Family of God’” (cf. Eph 2:19-20).
I know that during Your Grace’s installation in Canterbury Cathedral you remembered in prayer the new Bishop of Rome. I am deeply grateful to you – and since we began our respective ministries within days of each other, I think we will always have a particular reason to support one another in prayer.
The history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church is long and complex, and not without pain. Recent decades, however, have been marked by a journey of rapprochement and fraternity, and for this we give heartfelt thanks to God. This journey has been brought about both via theological dialogue, through the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and via the growth of cordial relations at every level through shared daily lives in a spirit of profound mutual respect and sincere cooperation. In this regard, I am very pleased to welcome alongside you Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. These firm bonds of friendship have enabled us to remain on course even when difficulties have arisen in our theological dialogue that were greater than we could have foreseen at the start of our journey.
I am grateful, too, for the sincere efforts the Church of England has made to understand the reasons that led my Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church: I am sure this will enable the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican patrimony to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world.
Today’s meeting is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father. Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.
This prayer gives a fresh impulse to our daily efforts to grow towards unity, which are concretely expressed in our cooperation in various areas of daily life. Particularly important among these is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.
Then there is the effort to achieve greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good. Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.
I know that Your Grace is especially sensitive to all these questions, in which we share many ideas, and I am also aware of your commitment to foster reconciliation and resolution of conflicts between nations. In this regard, together with Archbishop Nichols, you have urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict such as would guarantee the security of the entire population, including the minorities, not least among whom are the ancient local Christian communities. As you yourself have observed, we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony. This makes it easier to contribute to building relations of respect and peaceful coexistence with those who belong to other religious traditions, and with non-believers.
The unity we so earnestly long for is a gift that comes from above and it is rooted in our communion of love with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As Christ himself promised, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). Let us travel the path towards unity, fraternally united in charity and with Jesus Christ as our constant point of reference. In our worship of Jesus Christ we will find the foundation and raison d’être of our journey. May the merciful Father hear and grant the prayers that we make to him together. Let us place all our hope in him who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
Below, please find the complete text of Archbishop Justin Welby’s address to Pope Francis, which was delivered in English:
I am full of love and gratitude to be here. In the last few days we have been remembering the death of Blessed Pope John XXIII in the midst of the Second Vatican Council. At the Requiem said at Lambeth Palace fifty years ago this weekend by Archbishop Michael Ramsey, my much-loved predecessor said of him: ‘Pope John has shown us again the power of being, by being a man who touches human hearts with charity. So there has come to many a new longing for the unity of all Christians, and a new knowledge that however long the road may be, charity already makes all the difference to it.’
Having for many years found inspiration in the great corpus of Catholic social teaching, and worked on its implications with Catholic groups; having spent retreats in new orders of the Church in France, and being accompanied by the Prior of another new order; I do indeed feel that I am (in the words of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Michael) coming to a place where I can feel myself at home.
Your Holiness, we are called by the Holy Spirit of God, through our fraternal love, to continue the work that has been the precious gift to popes and archbishops of Canterbury for these past fifty years, and of which this famous ring is the enduring token. I pray that the nearness of our two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the Church.
As you have stressed, we must promote the fruits of our dialogue; and, with our fellow bishops, we must give expression to our unity in faith through prayer and evangelisation. It is only as the world sees Christians growing visibly in unity that it will accept through us the divine message of peace and reconciliation.
However, the journey is testing and we cannot be unaware that differences exist about how we bring the Christian faith to bear on the challenges thrown up by modern society. But our ‘goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey’ (Benedict XVI, Spe salvi 1), and we can trust in the prayer of Christ, ‘ut omnes unum sint’ (Jn 17.21). A firm foundation of friendship will enable us to be hopeful in speaking to one another about those differences, to bear one another’s burdens, and to be open to sharing the discernment of a way forward that is faithful to the mind of Christ pressed upon us as disciples.
That way forward must reflect the self-giving love of Christ, our bearing of his Cross, and our dying to ourselves so as to live with Christ, which will show itself in hospitality and love for the poor. We must love those who seek to oppose us, and love above all those tossed aside—even whole nations—by the present crises around the world. Also, even as we speak, our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer terribly from violence, oppression and war, from bad government and unjust economic systems. If we are not their advocates in the name of Christ, who will be?
Your Holiness, dear brother, I assure you of the love, respect and prayer of the bishops, clergy and people of the Anglican Communion.