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Pope welcomes Archbishop of Canterbury

Catholic World News - June 14, 2013

Pope Francis met on June 14 with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Justin Welby, and the two affirmed the need for a shared Christian witness and joint efforts to promote social justice and peace.

Greeting the Anglican leader to the Vatican, Pope Francis used the words that Pope Paul VI had used when an earlier Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, had visited in 1976. The Pontiff welcomed Dr. Welby “not as a guest or a stranger, but as a fellow citizen of the saints and the family of God.”

Pope Francis expressed gratitude for the fact that during his enthronement, the new Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers for the Bishop of Rome. He remarked that since he and Dr. Welby had assumed their new posts within a few days of each other—Pope Francis formally inaugurated his papacy on March 19, while Archbishop Welby was enthroned on March 21—“we will always have a particular reason to support one another in prayer.” “The history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church, is long and complex, and not without pain,” the Pope observed. But he welcomed the ecumenical progress of recent decades, giving special credit to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. The friendly ties created by this dialogue, the Pope said, “have enabled us to remain on course even when difficulties have arisen in our theological dialogue that were greater than we could have foreseen at the start of our journey.”

The Pope did not explicitly mention the decisions by Anglican leaders that have created difficulties for ecumenical dialogue, such as the ordination of female priests and the acceptance of homosexual unions. However, he did directly comment on a complaint raised by some members of the Church of England about the creation of ordinariates for Anglicans entering the Catholic Church. Pope Francis said that he was grateful for “the sincere efforts that the Church of England has made to understand” this step.

Pope Francis went on to say that ecumenical work is a requirement, because “the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.” He spoke about the value of cooperative efforts to bear witness to the Gospel, to serve the poor, and to promote world peace. In particular he expressed support for the efforts by the Archbishop of Canterbury—in partnership with the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols—to “find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.”

In his formal response to the Pope’s address, Archbishop Welby too spoke of “a new longing for the unity of all Christians.” He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, saying that although the path of ecumenical progress may be uneven, the “goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”

The Anglican leader spoke of his own personal interest and involvement with Catholicism:

Having for many years found inspiration in the great corpus of Catholic social teaching, and worked on its implications with Catholic groups; having spent retreats in new orders of the Church in France, and being accompanied by the Prior of another new order; I do indeed feel that I am (in the words of Pope Paul VI to Archbishop Michael) coming to a place where I can feel myself at home.

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