THE Archbishop of Canterbury had a private audience with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Friday morning, when he introduced his new Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre, the Most Revd Bernard Ntahoturi, formerly Primate of Burundi, and they discussed their concerns.
In a rare move, the Pope invited the two Anglican archbishops and their wives to lunch in his Santa Marta residence, where the conversation continued for more than an hour and a half.
Afterwards, Archbishop Welby described the encounter, his fourth official meeting with the Pope, as “full of meaning, but also full of joy, a good deal of laughter, very relaxed but very thoughtful”.
He said that they discussed areas of conflict and human trafficking, as well as how to face challenges and divisions within their own Churches. “You can’t be paralysed by disagreements,” Archbishop Welby said. “We have to see the call of Christ to be united in the service of the poor.”
Archbishop Welby spoke about a planned visit to South Sudan, which had “to be done at a moment when it can make an enormous difference” and “tip the balance towards peace”.
Both he and the Pope, he said, called on the country’s political leadership “to turn away from violence and think of the people of South Sudan”.
Recalling his recent visit to refugee camps in northern Uganda, where more than a quarter of a million South Sudanese have fled, he said that they were “waiting and praying” for a change of heart from the nation’s leaders. When that happened, both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches would be ready to support the peace process in any way possible.
On the previous evening, Archbishop Welby officiated at an ecumenical evensong for the installation of Archbishop Ntahoturi. The service was held in the Oratory of San Francesco Saverio del Caravita, run by the Caravita Community. The President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, RC co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, were among those present.
The preacher was the Vatican foreign minister, the Most Revd Paul Gallagher, who, as papal Nuncio, first met Archbishop Welby a decade ago in the capital of Burundi, when Archbishop Welby, leading Coventry Cathedral’s international reconciliation ministry, was seeking to facilitate dialogue between the military and rebel soldiers at the end of the country’s civil war. As Primate of Burundi, Archbishop Ntahoturi worked closely with Archbishop Gallagher, who became a family friend.
Archbishop Gallagher emphasised that ecumenical engagement was an urgent “moral imperative” to enable all Christians to confront the “unprecedented number of challenges” that faced the world. “We must proceed together as the one Body of Christ”, he said, “not because it will be nice or cosy to do so, but because we have to in response to the pressing needs of humanity.”
Archbishop Ntahoturi has much experience of conflict resolution, both in his own country and in the wider Great Lakes region of Africa. The Anglican Centre in Rome, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, will be seeking to build on these ecumenical relationships in the service of peace in war-torn parts of the world.