Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury lead ecumenical Vespers in papal basilica – LifeSite

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury concluded an ecumenical ceremony in Rome today with a “commissioning” to the assembled Anglican and Catholic prelates.

In the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby joined forces on the altar to lead ecumenical Vespers and to send out pairings of Anglican and Catholic prelates – both male and female – on ecumenical endeavors. 

Hailing from 27 countries, the ecumenical pairing involved a Catholic and Anglican prelate from each country, who then return to their home nation to spread ecumenical efforts in the current style of Christian unity.

During Pope Francis’ homily, he spoke on the manner in which “unity” was to be effected, saying that “only a love that becomes gratuitous service, only the love that Jesus taught and embodied, will bring separated Christians closer to one another.” 

Pope Francis at ecumenical Vespers, January 25, 2024
Pope Francis at ecumenical Vespers, January 25, 2024

“Only that love, which does not appeal to the past in order to remain aloof or to point a finger, only that love which in God’s name puts our brothers and sisters before the ironclad defense of our own religious structures will unite us,” he added.

Stating how “each baptized person is a member of the one Body of Christ,” Francis drew heavily from today’s feast – the Conversion of St. Paul – saying “all efforts to attain full unity are called to follow the same route as Paul, decentralizing our own ideas in order to hear the Lord’s voice and give him the space to take the initiative.”

READ: Rome’s understanding of ‘Christian unity’ since Vatican II is wrong and dangerous to souls

Addressing the assembled ecumenical clergy and a large body of the Roman Curia, Francis did not highlight the primacy of the Catholic Church but spoke instead of the role of “prayer” in the pursuit of “unity.” Quoting from St. Paul’s dialogue with God in the Scripture passage of his conversion, Francis stated:

“What are we to do Lord? In asking that question, we already have an answer, because the first answer is prayer. Prayer for unity is the primary responsibility in our journey together. And it is a sacred responsibility, because it means being in communion with the Lord, who prayed above all to the Father for unity.

Francis thanked Welby for being present for the joint commissioning of bishops, highlighting that “we can confer on these joint groups of bishops the mandate of continuing to testify to the unity willed by God for his Church in their respective regions, as they move forward together ‘to extend the mercy and peace of God to a world in need.’”

Welby delivered an unplanned homily after Francis’, highlighting the themes of “unity” and “love” and how such aspects must be prioritized over “anger.”

Canterbury’s Justin Welby during ecumenical Vespers, January 25, 2024

During the commissioning itself, Francis pointed back to Pope Gregory the Great sending St. Augustine to convert the English people. Meanwhile Welby urged that “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.”

At this point, Francis and Welby pronounced together in English a commendation to the bishops before greeting them in their pairs as the prelates approached the altar and shook hands with Francis and Welby. 

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” Francis and Welby said in unison after greeting the prelates.

Pope Francis greets an Anglican female prelate, January 25, 2024
Abp. Justin Welby at ecumenical Vespers

Just prior to the close of the Vespers, Cardinal Kurt Koch – prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity – thanked the Pope for his presence, saying it highlighted “how much ecumenical engagement is close to your heart.”

“The ecumenism of charity has enabled us to rediscover the fraternity that, among us Christians and among us Christian communities, exists by reason of the baptism common to all, offering us an effective network of friendly relations,” Koch continued.

Cardinal Kurt Koch

The ceremony took place at the conclusion of the week of prayer for Christian unity. Running alongside the week of prayer for Christian unity is the “Growing Together” summit, which is being organized by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

IARCCUM is “an official commission of the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, established to support ecumenical dialogue between the traditions,” and it was the final event of the Rome section of the IARCCUM summit that Francis joined forces with Welby at Vespers.

IARCCUM described the event as “a significant moment, symbolic for Anglican-Catholic bonds and advancing ecumenical dialogue.”

READ: Archbishop of Canterbury leads ‘Anglican Eucharist’ in Catholic basilica with Pope’s approval

It marks the second time that Francis and Welby have commissioned the pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops since 2016, a year which saw the first IARCCUM summit.

Over his pontificate, Pope Francis has formed a close relationship with Welby, most recently journeying with him to South Sudan on an ecumenical pilgrimage and inviting the Anglican prelate to take a place of honor at the ecumenical prayer vigil held on the eve of the Synod on Synodality. 

The Anglican & Catholic bishop pairings.
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