Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey, Stuffing and Canterbury

Belatedly, to everyone here in the States, hope you've been having a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving. As always, I give great thanks for the gift of each of you; know that all of you, your loved ones and all your intentions remain in my grateful prayers. God love and reward you all forever!

And now, to the day's top story: While the Vatican's Turkey Day doesn't fall until next week, when Pope Benedict leaves Rome for his three-day pilgrimage to Istanbul and Ankara, American Thanksgiving was a full one in Rome as Pope Benedict received the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in private audience. The pontiff and the Anglican primate also led Midday Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Vatican and Lambeth delegations in the Apostolic Palace's Redemptoris Mater chapel.

In part of his address to the archbishop and his entourage, Benedict said the following:
In the present context... and especially in the secularized Western world, there are many negative influences and pressures which affect Christians and Christian communities. Over the last three years you have spoken openly about the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the future of the Communion itself. Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations. It is to be hoped that the work of the theological dialogue, which had registered no small degree of agreement on these and other important theological matters, will continue be taken seriously in your discernment. In these deliberations we accompany you with heartfelt prayer. It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.

The world needs our witness and the strength which comes from an undivided proclamation of the Gospel. The immense sufferings of the human family and the forms of injustice that adversely affect the lives of so many people constitute an urgent call for our shared witness and service. Precisely for this reason, and even amidst present difficulties, it is important that we continue our theological dialogue. I hope that your visit will assist in finding constructive ways forward in the current circumstances.
(Rowan's greeting here.)

At the close of their encounter -- 25 minutes of which were spent one-on-one -- a "common declaration" was issued by the two leaders. A snip:
True ecumenism goes beyond theological dialogue; it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness. As our dialogue has developed, many Catholics and Anglicans have found in each other a love for Christ which invites us into practical co-operation and service. This fellowship in the service of Christ, experienced by many of our communities around the world, adds a further impetus to our relationship. The International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) has been engaged in an exploration of the appropriate ways in which our shared mission to proclaim new life in Christ to the world can be advanced and nurtured. Their report, which sets out both a summary of the central conclusions of ARCIC and makes proposals for growing together in mission and witness, has recently been completed and submitted for review to the Anglican Communion Office and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and we express our gratitude for their work.
In this fraternal visit, we celebrate the good which has come from these four decades of dialogue. We are grateful to God for the gifts of grace which have accompanied them. At the same time, our long journey together makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, besides being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress. It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in the truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous.
From the UK press, The Times reports one positive result from the first in-depth meeting between the two: "A source said that the two men, both highly intellectual academic theologians, had forged a strong bond." But the Telegraph, while praising Benedict XVI's ability to "emerge as a beaming pastor with possibly the finest theological mind in the Church," heads its lead comment piece with an ominous sentence: "The archbishop's days are numbered."

The report gives new airing to the rampant speculation in Anglican circles that, after a tenure of just over five years, Williams will leave office following the colliding planes of the communion enter into "formal schism" at the 2008 Lambeth Conference -- the decennial convocation of the bishops of global Anglicanism -- to be succeeded by the archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

Tomorrow afternoon, the archbishop will preside at evening prayer in S. Maria sopra Minerva alongside the basilica's titular, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster. The vespers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Rome's Anglican Centre. On Sunday, the visit will end with a flourish as the Canterbury prelate offers an Anglican "Festival Eucharist" in S. Sabina, the traditional home of the papal liturgy of Ash Wednesday.

Notably, word is that the Dominican mother-church was not always the envisioned venue: the service's initially proposed site was said to be the Patriarchal Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls.

PHOTO 2: AP/Alessandro Bianchi