Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Pope Francis met for the first time and issued a joint call for unity, rooted in the love of God.
“I know that during Your Grace’s installation in Canterbury Cathedral you remembered in prayer the new Bishop of Rome. I am deeply grateful to you – and since we began our respective ministries within days of each other, I think we will always have a particular reason to support one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said June 14.
The meeting began with a private audience at 11:00 a.m. in the Papal Library, which was followed by their separate addresses and an exchange of gifts. The Pope and archbishop concluded their encounter with a moment of prayer in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel.
In his address to Archbishop Welby, Pope Francis offered him a warm welcome that recalled when Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited Paul VI in 1966, the first time an Anglican primate visited Rome.
Pope Francis then noted that the “history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church is long and complex, and not without pain.”
But “recent decades” have been marked by “a journey of rapprochement and fraternity, and for this we give heartfelt thanks to God,” he said.
“These firm bonds of friendship,” he added, “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.”
Pope Francis offered particular thanks for “the sincere efforts” by the Church of England made to “understand the reasons that led my Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church.”
“I am sure this will enable the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican patrimony to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world,” he remarked.
The Holy Father also highlighted that the “search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father.”
He pointed to several concrete areas of unity, including Anglicans and Catholics’ witness, to “God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage.”
Also on Pope Francis’ mind were efforts to achieve “greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good,” giving a voice to the poor and working for peace between nations.
“In this regard, together with Archbishop Nichols, you have urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict such as would guarantee the security of the entire population, including the minorities, not least among whom are the ancient local Christian communities.
“As you yourself have observed,” the Pope said, “we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony.”
He concluded his address by saying, let us “travel the path towards unity, fraternally united in charity and with Jesus Christ as our constant point of reference. In our worship of Jesus Christ we will find the foundation and raison d’être of our journey.”?
For his part, Archbishop Welby prayed, “the nearness of our two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the Church.”
The Anglican archbishop also acknowledged the “journey is testing and we cannot be unaware that differences exist about how we bring the Christian faith to bear on the challenges thrown up by modern society.”
“But our ‘goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey,’” he said, quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Spe Salvi.”
In Archbishop Welby’s view, the way forward “must reflect the self-giving love of Christ, our bearing of his Cross, and our dying to ourselves so as to live with Christ, which will show itself in hospitality and love for the poor. We must love those who seek to oppose us, and love above all those tossed aside—even whole nations—by the present crises around the world.”