POPE FRANCIS used his first visit to the Anglican chaplaincy in Rome to announce that he hopes to visit South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
While responding to questions at All Saints’, Rome, on Sunday, the Pope said that all of South Sudan’s Christian leaders had urged him to visit the country, accompanied by Archbishop Welby.
”We are looking at whether it is possible, or if the situation down there is too dangerous. But we have to do it, because they — the three [Christian communities] — together desire peace, and they are working together for peace,” he said.
Although no formal invitation has been sent by the Vatican, it is understood that Archbishop Welby is keen on the idea.
Archbishop Welby last visited South Sudan, where a civil war broke out more than three years ago, in 2014 (News, 7 February 2014). Last week, he urged Christians to pray for peace, as aid agencies warned that the devastated economy could collapse and spark a huge famine (News, 24 February).
Pope Francis was joined for the ecumenical service at All Saints’ by the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, and his Suffragan, the Rt Revd David Hamid.
The Bishops and the Pope prayed together during the service, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the first public Anglican liturgy to be held in Rome.
In his homily, the Pope said: “In the course of these two centuries, much has also changed between Anglicans and Catholics, who in the past viewed each other with suspicion and hostility. Today, with gratitude to God, we recognise one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism.
“At times, progress on our journey towards full communion may seem slow and uncertain, but today we can be encouraged by our gathering. For the first time, a Bishop of Rome is visiting your community.”
After the service, Pope Francis received gifts, and commissioned and blessed an icon of Christ the Saviour made by an English artist, Ian Knowles, who works in Bethlehem.
In honour of the Pope, All Saints’ — with its Roman Catholic twin parish of Ognissanti — will also offer a meal for the poor who gather at the Ostiense train station in Rome each Friday evening, and will send 50 Bibles printed for the 200th anniversary to be donated to prostitutes in Western Africa.
The Chaplain of All Saints’, Canon Jonathan Boardman, said that the visit had had an “aura of profound prayer”, especially from the Pope himself. His congregation had been moved by the detail and knowledge of All Saints’ displayed in Pope Francis’s sermon, he said. “For me, the moment of real depth in his sermon was when he said that to welcome him here as ‘Bishop of Rome’ was to acknowledge reciprocal gifts and responsibilities: this was a setting out of the steps that Roman Catholics, as well as Anglicans, needed to take to achieve unity. “There was a mutual sense of accountability.”
Following Pope John Paul II’s visit to Canterbury Cathedral in the 1980s, and Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Westminster Abbey in 2010 (News, 24 September 2010), it now seemed normal for a Pope to visit a “normal Anglican church”, Canon Boardman said.