ROME is a place of gestures. Many of them, after a traffic incident, say, are immediately obvious in their meaning.
Others, and this includes ecumenical gestures, are less easy to gauge. It will be some time before the significance of last week’s visit to Rome by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cricket XI, for its rematch against the Vatican side, can be fully appreciated — but that goes for almost every contact that Anglicans have with Roman Catholics.
In a week when “behaving like a Protestant” was used as a dire warning to members of the Synod on the Family in Rome, it was particularly important to show how the clergy and ordinands of a Church that is both Catholic and Reformed really do behave.
Inspired by the example set in England last year by the visiting Vatican side, the members of the Anglican team were smart and engaging, winning the hearts of all whom they encountered, from RC seminarians to Maria, owner of a restaurant near the Vatican Museum, where lunch one day threatened to turn into a street party.
Nigel Baker, the UK Ambassador to the Holy See, remarked that the many seminarians who met the group would from now on look with favour on any Anglicans they encountered.
The team enjoyed a generous level of hospitality from the outset, itself a gesture of ecumenical warmth. Highlights were a tour of St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum, and vespers at the Venerable English College.
Before vespers, the Anglican and Roman Catholic ordinands and priests heard from Sister Eugenia Bonetti MC about her efforts to stop the trafficking of Nigerian women to Italy, where they are forced into prostitution. (The match in Canterbury had featured a collection for the Churches’ joint work against people-trafficking.)
In his welcome address, the Rector of the College, Mgr Philip Whitmore, quoted Pope John Paul II: “The sense of fraternity, generosity, honesty, and respect for the body . . . contributes to the building-up of a civil society where antagonism is replaced by healthy competition, conflict gives way to encounter, and bitter rivalry yields to honest challenge.”
After vespers, in a gesture that threatened to feel staged, the two teams prayed the Lord’s Prayer together in the college church for the benefit of a Songs of Praise camera crew.
The prayer ended with a spontaneous time of silence, stretching for several minutes — not good television, but one of the most moving moments of the tour.
The next day, Friday, was practice day, first in a park in the shadow of the Castel S. Angelo, then against a local side at the Cappanelle ground, along the Appian Way.
Then, on Saturday morning, came the match. It would have been a poor response to such kind hospitality to beat the hosts, though some might feel that the ecumenical gesture of giving the Vatican side 38 extras was a little over-generous. (See separate report.)
The religious highlight of the week, at least in terms of scale, was the invitation to the Anglicans to attend the papal mass in their clerical robes. The team sat on the north side of the altar where Pope Francis presided, a short distance from the ranks of cardinals and bishops from the Synod.
The final event was a dinner for the teams in the elegant 16th-century Casino Pio IV in the midst of the Vatican gardens, presided over by Cardinal George Pell.
One of the speakers was Fr Eamonn O’Higgins LC, manager of the St Peter’s Club, from which the Vatican players were drawn. There had been a slight mix-up over the cups: the Rome side had not known that the Anglicans would bring over the cup presented in Canterbury, engraved with the words “Ut unum sint” (“May they all be one”), and so had produced their own, the St Augustine trophy. In the end, both were presented.
Fr O’Higgins turned this into a sermon illustration: “The St Augustine Cup is our origin; Ut unum sint is our goal, our purpose. Unity will happen: it’s only a question of time. This weekend, it did happen.”
The tour was made possible by generous sponsorship from the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, with the support of the Church Times, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, and the Anglican Centre in Rome. A member of the Archbishop’s staff, Elise Gallagher, was the team’s hard-working minder; and the team enjoyed hospitality from, among others, the Most Revd Sir David Moxon, Fr Tony Currer of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Fr Eamonn O’Higgins LC of the Mater Ecclesiae seminary, Mgr Philip Whitmore of the Venerable English College, and Ambassador John McCarthy.