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Seeking unity in help for the poor

by
20 June 2014

The complementary Pope and Archbishop are serving together, says Paul Vallely

PERHAPS it is a coincidence, but we seem to be getting complementary skill-sets in the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope. Last time round, Rowan Williams and Joseph Ratzinger were both shy scholars who were sophisticated and precise in their theology. Today, Justin Welby and Jorge Mario Bergoglio are both men of prayer and deed in the tradition of what Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, called "contemplatives in action".

This might reflect the selection criteria of those who appoint or elect our church leaders; or it might have something to do with the Holy Spirit. Either way, the result is fruitful, as the Archbishop of Canterbury's trip to Rome showed this week.

There was no fudging on theology by the two men, who were each installed within days of one another last year. The Pope acknowledged that the historic divide between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church was a "scandal". The Archbishop said that Anglicans and RCs had to "get away from being quite comfortable with the fact we live separately". The goal of full communion should not be abandoned, the Pope said, noting that divine help might be needed in the process.

The Archbishop's tone was bracingly self-critical. Churches needed to reject institutional self-preservation, and instead become inspired by the Holy Spirit to reach out to the world, particularly to the poor, he said. He lamented the failure of the "extremely wealthy" Established Church in the 18th century to embrace the preaching of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. It had chosen "power and structural integrity", instead of being willing to take risks.

Yet the Archbishop pointedly challenged the premise of a question from an interviewer on Vatican Radio. "Dialogue has not come to a standstill," he said. Official Anglican-Roman Catholic representatives were still engaged in "very serious dialogue". Later, at the launch of a new website for Anglican-RC relations (www.iarccum.org), he said: "Good theology is crucial to good church-building."

Theological dialogue is not enough, however. "Whoever is familiar with the poor wants a different world," said Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, whose refugee centre was visited by the two leaders. Translating the degree of spiritual communion that already exists between the two denominations requires practical outcomes.

The two men's great exemplar of that is their joint project to combat human trafficking around the world. This seeks to persuade 50 multinational companies to render their supply chains free of slavery by 2020 - and wants churches to establish ways of ensuring that they "slavery-proof" their chain of suppliers.

"The more we share the pain and oppression of the poor and suffering in the name of God," the Archbishop said, "the more God will draw us closer to each other." To symbolise this, the Archbishop presented the Pope with a cutting from a fig tree at Lambeth Palace planted by the last Archbishop of Canterbury to have been in communion with Rome, Cardinal Pole. By their fruits you shall know them.
 

Paul Vallely's biography Pope Francis: Untying the knots is published by Bloomsbury.

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