Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury held their third formal meeting this morning in the Vatican with the two leaders calling for joint action based on the needs of the world.
Archbishop Justin Welby used his address today to praise the impact the Pope had made on the Anglican Communion, particularly his service to the poor, combatting human trafficking and in speaking out on climate change.
“Your letters and encyclicals have spoken far beyond Rome and her church, in a manner which is universal,” he said.
The private one-to-one meeting with Francis took place in the papal state rooms and was followed by another gathering with a group of Anglican leaders from across the world. Sixteen “Primates” are in Rome with Archbishop Welby and this morning prayed with him at the tomb of St Peter.
In his address, the Pope told the Archbishop and the primates: “Now is the time in which the Lord challenges us, in a particular way, to go out from ourselves and our own environs, in order to bring his merciful love to a world thirsting for peace.”
The presence of the Anglican leaders in Rome is significant given the Anglican Communion is on the brink of schism over disagreements on homosexuality. Among the primates travelling to the Eternal City was Bishop Michael Curry, the leader of Anglicans in the United States; his church is currently under sanctions due to it’s recognition of same-sex marriages.
Francis described the presence of the primates as a “beautiful sign of fraternity”, saying their prayers at the tomb of St Peter this morning showed Christians should “never grow tired of asking the Lord together and insistently for the gift of unity”.
The Pope drew attention to the fact his meeting with Welby took place 50 years on from the historic meeting between two of their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
In that encounter Paul VI gave his episcopal ring to Archbishop Ramsey, a moment that has been held up as a symbolic step towards unity between the Churches. In an echo of that gesture, Archbishop Welby last night gave Francis his pectoral cross made out of nails from the roof of Coventry Cathedral, bombed during the Second World War. It is a symbol of the international reconciliation movement started in the city.
Francis said the historic meeting had borne much fruit, including the work of the official Anglican-Catholic dialogue (Arcic) and the establishment of the Anglican Centre in Rome, both of which are celebrating their 50th anniversary.
Nevertheless, the major obstacle facing further unity in the Church is the question of women’s ordination, something which the Anglicans have pushed forward with but the Catholic Church is resolutely opposed to.
Archbishop Welby said today that the disunity between the Churches “damage every aspect of our lives in Christ” and means the “world is less able to see that Jesus comes from the Father”.
But, he stressed: “Despite those things that divide, we may be publicly determined to press forward where we may, together with all other Christians.”