Yesterday (January 25) Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, commissioned pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from across the world at Vespers (Evening Prayer) at the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome. Marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the ecumenical congregation drawn from various Christian traditions, prayed for the unity of the Church.
The bishop pairs are currently attending ‘Growing Together,’ a weeklong programme of ecumenical dialogue and pilgrimage, taking place in Rome and Canterbury. It is organised by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), supported by the Anglican Communion Office and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.
Bishop Peter was commissioned alongside the Anglican Bishop of Beverley, Stephen Race, as the representatives from England and Wales.
The Pope and the Archbishop commissioned the bishops to engage in joint mission and witness and to promote reception of the agreements already reached in theological dialogues between the two traditions. The location of the commissioning is significant, as it marks the place where the apostle Paul was buried after his martyrdom in Rome.
During the commissioning, Pope Francis addressed the bishops, saying: “Brothers and sisters, fourteen centuries ago, Pope Gregory the Great commissioned Saint Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, and his companions, to set out from Rome to preach the joy of the Gospel to the peoples of England. Today, with gratitude to God for our sharing in the Gospel, we send you forth, beloved co-workers for the kingdom of God, so that wherever you carry out your ministry, you may together bear witness to the hope that does not deceive and the unity for which our Saviour prayed.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the bishops, saying: “Brothers and sisters, God reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. As we send you forth from the tomb of the Apostle to the Nations, we call on you to make this ministry your special care. As you preach and celebrate the sacraments with God’s holy people, bear witness to the one hope of your calling. May your ministry alongside one another as Catholics and Anglicans be for the world a foretaste of the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ for which we pray this day.”
The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury together invoked God’s blessing on the pairs of bishops, using words from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The Pope and the Archbishop then shared the sign of peace with each of the bishop pairs, as the hymn Ubi caritas was sung. This ancient hymn from the liturgy of Holy Week includes the words, “By the love of Christ we have been brought together. Let us find in him our gladness and our pleasure. … So when we as one are gathered all together, let us strive to keep our minds free of division; may there be an end to malice, strife and quarrels, and let Christ our God be dwelling here among us.”
This is the second time that the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have commissioned Anglican and Catholic bishop pairs. The first commissioning took place in 2016 at the church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome, in the context of the first IARCCUM summit.
Speaking of his time in Rome and Canterbury, Bishop Peter Collins said: “It has been a great week, a great exchange, very informative, enlightening indeed and inspiring.”
The service at St Paul Outside the Walls is one of a series of sites the bishops are visiting in both Rome and Canterbury as part of their ecumenical programme. Prayer at other holy sites include the tombs of Saints Peter, Paul, Augustine of Canterbury and Thomas à Becket.
Pictured top are Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby at the commissioning and, below, the bishops who were commissioned. Pictures by Neil Turner, courtesy of IARCCUM.