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Primates combine pilgrimage with prayer and debate in Rome

30 April 2024

This article was updated on 2 May

Neil Turner/Anglican Communion Office

The Primates in Rome this week

The Primates in Rome this week

CONFLICT, climate, poverty, and reconciliation were among the topics of “intense discussion” behind closed doors at the Primates’ Meeting, held in Rome this week.

The Anglican Communion Office (ACO) described the meeting as “four days of prayer, pilgrimage, discussion, and fellowship” — which includes a meeting with Pope Francis, due to take place on Thursday, shortly before the one scheduled press conference.

“Conceived as a pilgrimage, they will pray and study scripture together, visit holy sites in Rome, and reflect together about the mission and witness of the Church in the world,” the ACO said.

It is the first time that the Primates have met in Rome. A planned meeting there in 2020 was cancelled because of Covid. This week, they are being hosted by the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Most Revd Ian Ernest.

The agenda, which is not being published, has been developed by the Primates’ Standing Committee. It is reported to include “prayerful conversation” about areas of conflict in the world as well as “regional meetings to discuss issues of local concern”.

Films summarising each day are being published by the ACO. In the first, Archbishop Ernest says: “We are able today to come to together to be able to see each other, engage with each other, and look at the future, how we can address the present structures so that it helps us to be more proactive with each other. And what was said in Toronto in 1963 at the Anglican Congress, that there is mutual responsibility.

“The Anglican Centre, being a place of encounter, prayer, hospitality, is also a place where we can bring about our grievances, our differences, but bring it with a spirit of forgiveness.”

On Monday, the Primates visited Tre Fontane, believed to be the place of St Paul’s martyrdom, and the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, where they attended vespers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury described the pilgrimage as “deeply profound and significant: not only in that they are where St Paul the Apostle was martyred and laid to rest, but that the Primates all journeyed there together, in deep prayer and contemplation”.

One of the three Archbishops of Aotearoa, New Zealand, & Polynesia, the Most Revd Don Tamihere, said: “It’s been a wonderful time getting to know each other in prayer study and pilgrimage, here at St Peter’s Basilica. . . It has reminded us of what we have in common, the beauty of our faith, the deep traditions that we hold, but more importantly, even though we’re from across the globe, from many diverse countries, we are one family. It’s been interesting to see how quickly that’s happened today.”

Neil Turner/Anglican Communion OfficeThe Canadian Primate, the Most Revd Linda Nicholls, speaking on Tuesday about work in indigenous communities

On Tuesday, the Primates visited Santa Maria in Trastevere, and the Community of Sant’Egidio. Established in 1968, the community of lay people offers health, legal, and housing support for vulnerable people, besides being an advocate for social justice and providing a humanitarian corridor for refugees.

“We’ve had a wonderful afternoon — a break from the intense discussions we’ve been having together,” the Primate of Canada, the Most Revd Linda Nicholls, said in Tuesday’s video. “We also listened to three of our own members share a little bit about where we are struggling and working with reconciliation, and serving the poor and those in most need in our communities.”

Archbishop Welby has described the Primates’ Meeting as “an important time of pilgrimage and fellowship. Together, we will discuss common priorities and challenges in the global mission and shared life of the Anglican Communion.

“The Primates serve churches and communities around the world. Many come from settings where people are directly impacted by the instability of conflict, the challenge of climate crisis, and the injustice of poverty. Together, we will pray for the needs of people and planet, the unity of God’s Church, and the witness of the Anglican Communion.”

During the week, the Primates will also be asked to respond to a paper by the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order (IASCUFO) on structure and decision-making in the Anglican Communion (News, 24 November 2023). Commissioned by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in 2023, it also proposes ways to address difference and disagreement within the Communion, including on issues surrounding sexuality.

IASCUFO reports to all four Instruments of the Anglican Communion, and will carry its paper to the next meeting of the ACC in 2026.

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