When you’re in the Vatican it’s easy to be a little overawed by the size and the reach of the Roman Catholic Church.
It’s also easy to see why Francis, Bishop of Rome, would choose to live in simpler and more communal surroundings than the Apostolic Palace.
The Anglican Primates gathered in Rome in support of the visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to Pope Francis.
They met to celebrate the progress that has been made in our relationship since that historic 1966 meeting between their predecessors, Archbishop Michael Ramsay and Pope Paul VI.
The message from this Pope and this Archbishop was clear: we have to walk together in mission.
The challenges of a broken and needy world are too great to let our differences get in the way of promoting the way of Christ.
What will we find together?
Walking together we will talk, and in the walking and talking we will build friendship in Christ, and in that friendship we will discover unexpected ways through our differences.
We will learn from each other – and we will be changed for the better by the experience.
That walking and talking together has been given new impetus by the forming, in 19 regional areas, of covenanted mission partnerships between Catholic Bishops’ Conferences and our own Houses of Bishops.
In our case, we were represented by Cardinal John Dew and Bishop Ross Bay, who spent a week in Canterbury and in Rome developing strategies for joint mission.
This practical working together, which is the focus of the work of IARCCUM (the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity in Mission) would not have been possible without the years of diligent work on doctrinal differences undertaken by ARCIC I (the first Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) by ARCIC II and now by ARCIC III.
But now, say both Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury, the time has come not just for more talk – but for acting and working together in faith. This working together will shape our further doctrinal conversations.
Some significant challenges...
I think our walking and our talking together most become even more honest, more robust than it has been. Because the experience of these few days of celebration has raised some significant challenges.
The first morning we were invited to an excellent symposium where the theme was “50 Years of Walking Together, developing new directions in Anglican Roman Catholic relations ”.
The three main sessions were led by pairs of speakers: Roman Catholic and Anglican.
But of the 11 people who addressed us, only two were women: Professor Anna Rowlands, who is Catholic, and Dr Paula Gooder. When that poor gender balance was raised, Paula Gooder responded in a polite but firm way: ‘We have a long way to go,’ she said.
The whole symposium also felt extraordinarily Eurocentric.
All our speakers, bar the last two, were either European or North American.
These last two – a Lebanese man and a Canadian who has lived and worked in the Horn of Africa for some years – spoke on the refugee crisis and living with Islam.
Unfortunately, they had to speak hurriedly, and in bullet points because a previous speaker had gone over time.
In front of a multi-cultural and multilingual audience these various imbalances jarred for me.
I was also struck by how different things look when you come from a land that has been colonised.
A land where the proclamation of the Gospel and the establishment of the Church has been an arm of that colonization – and where you have to work daily at the consequences of that in relationship to the indigenous people of the land.
That perspective was entirely absent.
There was also a complete absence of urgency around global warming. The order of the day seemed to be that with a tweak here, a little careful recycling there, all will be well.
Yet several of the primates – from Africa, Bangladesh, and the Pacific – represented communities which are rapidly running out of time to preserve their homes.
To be fair, at the end of the Symposium Archbishop Welby sought hard to redress some of this, by speaking compellingly of the needs of Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific.
And, in their various homilies and addresses over the next two days, Pope Francis and the Archbishop placed weight where it needed to be – on the urgent needs of a suffering world.
So as we seek to live authentically into the challenges of the Gospel our two churches have much to celebrate.
And much to do.