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Anglican and RC bishops gather in show of unity

26 January 2024

Neil Turner/IARCCUM

Anglican and RC bishops gather in the Choir Chapel of St Peter’s Basilica for choral evensong, on Tuesday

Anglican and RC bishops gather in the Choir Chapel of St Peter’s Basilica for choral evensong, on Tuesday

ANGLICAN choral evensong was sung in St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, on Tuesday, as more than 50 Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops came together for an ecumenical summit.

Organised by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), the gathering, “Growing Together”, began on Monday in Rome, and is set to conclude next Monday after three days in Canterbury.

The bishops, from around the world, and engaginf in a series of conversations on synodality, the environment, safeguarding, and reconciliation. They have been paired up, and were due to be commissioned yesterday, in their pairs, to be witnesses to Christian unity.

The week offers multiple opportunities for shared worship: the Archbishop of Canterbury was due to preside and preach at a eucharist at San Bartolomeo, which stands on an island in the Tiber; and the RC Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Stephen Chow, will preach in Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday.

Tuesday’s choral evensong in the Choir Chapel of St Peter’s Basilica was aided by a choir assembled for the occasion from the two Anglican churches in Rome: All Saints’ (C of E), and St Paul’s Within the Walls (Episcopal Church of the United States). The Chaplain of All Saints’, Canon Robert Warren, officiated.

It is only the second time that a traditional Anglican choral evensong has been sung in St Peter’s Basilica: the first was in 2017 (News, 17 March 2017).

After the service, Fr Martin Browne OSB, a co-secretary of IARCCUM, said: “The daily office of psalms and canticles is something we share in common as Catholics and Anglicans, and so it was wonderful to be able to have an Anglican celebration here in this chapel.”

The Director of Unity, Faith and Order at the Anglican Communion Office, Dr Christopher Wells, said that the work of IARCCUM showed that “both of our Communions are investing in this practical, experimental work showing the depth of our commitment to the unflagging pursuit of full, visible unity in the body of Christ.

“As we pray, study, teach, and serve alongside other Christians, the Holy Spirit reshapes our hearts, and what seemed remote or unimaginable becomes real and normal. Unity is not as hard as we think. It begins and ends with love of God and one another, and subsists in common prayer.”

The summit in Rome and Canterbury was one of the highest-profile events organised to mark the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ended yesterday.

Early in the week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York met the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Gill Newton, and its Vice-President, Deacon Kerry Scarlett.

In a post on social media about the meeting, Archbishop Welby wrote: “I cherish these moments when we can reach across differences in tradition to discuss and pray together for matters of mutual concern.”

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the RC Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The WCC has published materials, including social-media virtual cards and liturgical resources, to mark this year’s event, which has the theme: “You shall love the Lord your God . . . and your neighbour as yourself.”

At an ecumenical gathering in Nairobi, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, the Rt Revd Patrick Thegu Mutahi, said “I want to commend those who came up with the theme. . . It is rich, it is timely, and it is viable; it applies to us.”

A pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, the Revd Isaiah Obare, who chairs the Kenya chapter of the International Ecumenical Movement, said: “Even though today is a one-day event, the theme shall remain as our Christian compass through 2024.”

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