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Archbishop Welby joins Pope Francis and global church leaders for prayer vigil in Rome

02 October 2023

Francis Martin accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome


Pope Francis leads church leaders in prayer in front of a replica of the San Damiano crucifix at the end of the vigil in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on Saturday

Pope Francis leads church leaders in prayer in front of a replica of the San Damiano crucifix at the end of the vigil in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on S...

POPE FRANCIS welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome on Saturday, as church leaders from around the world gathered for an ecumenical prayer vigil in St Peter’s Square.

The event, called “Together”, comprised a multilingual liturgy and contributions from young adults drawn from the participating Churches, which included a performance of the parable of the Good Samaritan and a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by a Ukrainian children’s choir.

Leaders from over 20 denominations or groups of churches participated in the vigil itself, which was intended as part of the build-up to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of the Catholic Church, starting later in the week, and which is being referred to as the “Synod on Synodality” (News, 14 Feburary).

The ecumenical representatives present included the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople; the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Revd Dr Anne Burghardt; and the chair of the Pentecostal World Fellowship, the Revd Dr William Wilson.

Archbishop Welby introduced the Lord’s Prayer, which all were invited to recite in their own language.

The liturgy was constructed to showcase the diversity of the ecumenical gathering. Intercessions were intoned in Malay, Arabic, Mambwe, and Armenian, along with almost a dozen other languages, interspersed with the singing of the Kyrie.

AlamyBirettas carried into St Peter’s Square on Saturday morning for the new cardinals

In his homily, Pope Francis thanked those who had been involved in planning the event, especially the Taizé Community which initiated it, and whose chants were used throughout the vigil.

Dozens of cardinals attended the service, some newly minted that morning at a consistory in St Peter’s Square, which Archbishop Welby attended along with other ecumenical representatives.

At the morning service, at which the new cardinals received their red birettas, those attending had to cope with the heat of the sun, those without a new biretta having to protect their heads with their order of service. By the time of the ecumenical vigil, the sun had dropped below the the Vatican walls.

“The extraordinary beauty of the vigil’s setting gave a context for a service, led by the successor to St Peter, that the ecumenical leaders of all the world’s groups of churches found unforgettable,” Archbishop Welby told the Church Times the next day. “My own memory centres on the long, dense silence held by crowd and participants as we allowed God’s spirit to meet with us, as his one people.”

Pope Francis referred to the quality of the silence in his homily. “Silence is important and powerful: it can express unspeakable sorrow in the face of misfortune, but also, in moments of joy, a gladness that goes beyond words.”

He said that the practice of sharing silence was essential for Christian unity. Silence, he said, “is fundamental to prayer, and ecumenism begins with prayer and is sterile without it . . .

“Christian unity grows in silence before the cross, just like the seeds we will receive, which represent the different gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit on the various traditions: it is up to us to sow them, in the certainty that God alone brings about the growth.”

Lambeth PalaceThe Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis during their private meeting at the Vatican on Saturday

Pope Francis was referring to a packet of sycamore seeds given to each of the church leaders who took part in the vigil.

Before the consistory, Archbishop Welby had a private meeting with the Pope, at which they discussed their shared commitment to peacebuilding in South Sudan following their joint visit to the country in February (News, 6 February).

They also discussed migration, a topic on which both leaders have been outspoken. Archbishop Welby has criticised elements of the UK Government’s Rwanda policy (News, 22 April 2022), while at the World Day of Migrants and Refugees held in Marseilles last week, Pope Francis called for “good politics . . . transparent, honest, far-sighted, and at the service of all, especially those most vulnerable” (News, 27 September).

In their conversation on Saturday, Pope Francis told Archbishop Welby that the West was “consumed by indifference” in the face of the climate crisis, as well as the plight of migrants.

He also reportedly asked Archbishop Welby about “Women On The Frontline”, a project led by Archbishop Welby’s wife, Caroline, which encourages and equips women in areas of conflict around the Anglican Communion to act as peacebuilders.

In a statement issued afterwards, Archbishop Welby spoke of the privilege of meeting the Pope. “May our Churches be united in bringing Christ’s good news to a world in need.”

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