HOW heartening it has been to see the Archbishops of Canterbury
and Westminster engaged in so many joint initiatives in recent days
- and in practical activities to promote social justice and the
common good. The partnership speaks to a constantly deepening
friendship between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic
Church, the warmth of which was vividly symbolised by the Queen's
recent visit to Pope Francis.
The two Archbishops gave a joint interviewon Radio 4's
Sunday programme at the weekend. It was "not a stunt", the
Archbishop of Canterbury said, but part of an increasing
recognition that God has called the two Churches together to
co-operate to work for the poor. It was, the Archbishop of
Westminster said, a mutual conviction that it is only when faith is
put into action on behalf of the poor that it achieves its true
"edge of credibility".
The scope for co-operation is significant, the two men said, on
everything from foodbanks and night shelters to the huge numbers of
children whom the two Churches educate. On the Anglican side is a
Parliamentary inquiry into why more people are relying on
foodbanks, and the launch of a classroom "War on Wonga" to warn
children of the costly trap of payday lending. On the Roman
Catholic side, this week an international conference was held in
Rome, chaired by Cardinal Nichols, to take forward the interfaith
drive to eradicate slavery and human trafficking: it was signed by
the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, and the Grand Imam of
Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
Again, this was not a pious aspiration, but a combined intent to
lobby 50 big multinational businesses to commit themselves to
eradicating slavery from their supply chains. The meeting in Rome -
of Churches, activists, victims, and police - had clear practical
aims: to develop strong cross-border collaboration, to tighten laws
across Europe, and to allow victims of trafficking to remain in
countries such as the UK longer than the 45 days that they are
currently permitted to stay after police have freed them from the
thrall of their slavemasters.
The depth of the mutuality between the two largest denominations
in Britain goes well beyond the two Archbishops. Churches Together
partnerships all across the land testify to that. So did the
twinkle between Queen and Pope, which symbolised friendship as well
as common purpose. They did not meet at the Apostolic Palace, and
so the Queen was able to eschew black. "I wore this because it's
Lent," she said to Pope Francis, gesturing to her lilac outfit.
"And I wore white to match your gloves," he replied.
The gathering of 16 leading Anglican and Roman Catholic
theologians known as the Malines Conversations Group met for five
days last week in Canterbury to continue informal dialogue between
the two Churches. They were received at Lambeth Palace by
Archbishops Welby and Nichols, who said that the group's work on
memory, identity, and difference constituted a "laboratory", or
effective "pilgrimage", in the improvement of ecu-menical
Perhaps it is significant that CardinalNichols was formed as a
priest in Liverpool under the mentorship of Archbishop Derek
Worlock, the Roman Catholic episcopal partner to David Sheppard
when he was Bishop of Liverpool. Archbishop Welby was Dean of
Liverpool before he was consecrated to Durham and translated to
Canterbury. The Sheppard-Worlock motto was "Better together". All
these decades on, it is still an effective axiom in giving edge to
the gospel across not just a city, but an entire nation.
Paul Vallely's biography, Pope Francis: Untying the
knots, is published by Bloomsbury.