The last two weeks have been full of encounters and surprising experiences! As soon as I arrived, I was immersed in the Roman ecumenical world by participating in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has taken place every year since 1908, between the feast of Saint Peter and the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul, in the northern hemisphere. This year’s readings, meditations and prayers were prepared by the churches of the Middle East and invited us to walk together with the text of Matthew 2:1-12 which tells us of the visit of the Magi to the Child Jesus.
The presence of the seat of the Catholic Church as well as the antiquity and the importance of this city in the Christian faith means that many churches are present in Rome. That special week, which is the occasion for many celebrations and ecumenical meetings, culminates with the Papal vespers at Saint-Paul-outside-the-walls on the day of the conversion of Paul, the apostle of the non-Jews.
At the Anglican Centre, this week of prayer was particularly lively this year because we received a group of students from Nashotah House (an Episcopal Church seminary located in Wisconsin) as well as pilgrims who came through The Living Church Foundation. This week has been for them and for us at the Anglican Center a great moment of meeting, conviviality and discovery in prayer and study.
Archbishop Ian Ernest and I accompanied the group on some of their visits. The first of them, which inaugurated this week together, took place in San Gregorio Magno al Celio. San Gregorio is an important place in the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Communion of Anglican Churches. In fact, it was from there in 697 that Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine on a mission. The mission of Augustine (who would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury) was to convert the Anglo-Saxons. In 2016 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first visit of an Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome since the 16th century (a very important phase in the ecumenical rapprochement between Anglicans and Roman Catholics), the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis sent out on mission nineteen peers of Catholic and Anglican bishops to be in their jurisdictions ferments of unity and collaboration in the service of the same Lord Jesus Christ.
It was therefore particularly moving, on the evening of our visit to San Gregorio, to celebrate in this same sanctuary an evening prayer according to the rite of the Episcopal Church. Sharing the same history, the same places, the same mission and the same Lord unites us despite our still imperfect communion. We have more in common than the institutional division of our churches would lead us to believe.