Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Anglicans and Catholics to work together to promote the unity of Christians and the unity of the human family. His words came as he presided at Vespers, together with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in the church of St Gregory on the Caelian Hill.
The ecumenical prayer service took place, symbolically, on the site from where Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine out on mission to evanglise the English at the end of the 6th century. During the liturgy Pope Francis presented the Anglican leader with a replica of the pastoral staff of St Gregory, while the Archbishop gave the Holy Father a silver Cross of Nails as a symbol of their partnership in the urgent work of reconciliation.
Leading the singing of the psalms, anthems and well known hymns was the choir from Canterbury Cathedral, alongside the Sistine Chapel choir. Among the packed congregation were pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops from around the world who are in Rome this week to celebrate 50 years of ecumenical dialogue and to recommit themselves to partnership in mission.
In his words to them, Pope Francis said “We recognize ourselves as brothers who belong to different traditions, but are driven by the same Gospel to undertake the same mission in the world.” Therefore he said, “it would be always good, before embarking on any activity, for you to put these questions to yourselves: Why ought not we do this together with our Anglican brothers?; Can we bear witness to Jesus by acting together with our Catholic brothers?”
Referring to the pastoral staff of St Gregory which contains a carved ivory lamb, the Pope urged the bishops of both traditions to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, telling them that “It is in sharing the difficulties and joys of ministry that we once again grow close to each other.”
He urged them to be “promoters of a bold and real ecumenism, always on a journey in search of opening new paths.” This is always and above all, he said, a matter of following the example of Our Lord, his pastoral methodology, of which the prophet Ezekiel reminds us: to seek out the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, heal the sick. Only thus, the Pope said, “shall the scattered people be brought together”