As Catholics and Anglicans pray and work for the day when they can celebrate the Eucharist together, they are called to support one another in situations of suffering, apologise together for times when they have sinned, and work together to share the Good News of God’s love, said bishops from both communities.

Pairs of Catholic and Anglican bishops from 27 nations travelled to Rome from 22 to 25 January and to Canterbury, England, from 26 to 29 January for ‘Growing Together,’ a week-long summit for ecumenical discussion, prayer and pilgrimage, including a commissioning by Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

The pilgrimage was organised by the International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, a body established in 2001 to promote common prayer and joint projects to demonstrate concretely how the theological agreements the churches have made also have practical implications in witnessing together to the Christian faith.

‘United in prayer’

A final statement drafted by participants was posted on 1 February on the websites of the Anglican Communion and the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

During the journey, the statement said, ‘we listened to the testimony of some of our bishops who minister courageously in circumstances of violence, acute suffering, oppression and warfare. In a world so scarred and wounded, we hear in many places of a suffering church and the call for all of us to be united in prayer.’

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we have been walking the road together with Christ in our midst.

‘The vocation of the Church is both to love and to witness to the love of God in the face of suffering,’ the statement said.

The pilgrimage was a time for Anglican and Catholic bishops to draw closer in faith and in friendship, they said. ‘Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we have been walking the road together with Christ in our midst. Because we recognise one Lord, we recognise one another as his disciples, and are strengthened for the journey ahead. Bonds of trust are being forged, challenging preconceived notions, and allowing us to speak to each other with the frankness that friendship allows.’

The bishops shared prayer and attended each other’s celebrations of the Eucharist; the Catholic bishops received a blessing during Communion at the Anglican service and the Anglican bishops went up for a blessing during Communion at the Catholic Masses.

‘The act of approaching the altar for a blessing when we could not receive the Eucharist, though marked by sadness, was for many of us a moving experience of spiritual communion, and a further impetus to continue this journey so that we might one day break bread together around the same altar,’ the statement said.

‘We must look outward’

The previous week in Rome, at a celebration of an Anglican Eucharist in the Catholic Church of St Bartholomew on Tiber Island in Rome, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury told Catholic and Anglican bishops that they had a responsibility to work together to preach the Gospel and to bring hope and healing to the world.

‘We must look outward. We cannot continue, as the church, to be those who are obsessed with what is going on amongst us,’ he said during his homily on 25 January.

Coming directly from a private meeting with Pope Francis, the Archbishop began the liturgy by thanking the Pope for allowing him to celebrate the Anglican service in a Catholic church.

During a prayer service that evening to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis was joined by Archbishop Welby, and at the end of the service, the two formally commissioned the pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops for joint initiatives in their homelands and to ‘bear witness together to the hope that does not deceive and to the unity for which our Saviour prayed’.

Only a love that becomes gratuitous service, only the love that Jesus taught and embodied, will bring separated Christians closer to one another

Divided Christians will draw closer to one another only by loving God and loving their neighbours, serving one another and not pointing fingers in blame for past faults, Pope Francis said at the prayer service, which was also attended by members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, who were meeting in Rome, along with representatives of Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican communities in Italy.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the theme for the 2024 celebration of the week of prayer: ‘You shall love the Lord your God ... and your neighbour as yourself’ from Luke 10:27.

‘Only a love that becomes gratuitous service, only the love that Jesus taught and embodied, will bring separated Christians closer to one another,’ he said. ‘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 defence of our own religious structures, will unite us.’

Christians, Pope Francis said in his homily, should never have to ask who their neighbour is because ‘each baptised person is a member of the one body of Christ; what is more, everyone in this world is my brother or my sister, and all together we compose that “symphony of humanity” of which Christ is the firstborn and redeemer.’

‘Prayer for unity is the primary responsibility in our journey together,’ the Pope said. ‘And it is a sacred responsibility, because it means being in communion with the Lord, who prayed above all to the Father for unity.’

‘Brothers and sisters in Christ’

The pairs of bishops who were commissioned included Hong Kong Anglican Bishop Matthias Tze-Wo Der and Cardinal Stephen Chow Sau-yan, whose dioceses have cooperated in running schools and providing social services for years.

Often finishing each other’s sentences, the two told Catholic News Service that they also have begun a tradition of sharing a Passover seder during Lent—with 100 Anglicans and 100 Catholics—an annual retreat for priests of both churches and an annual retreat for Catholic and Anglican young adults focused on care for creation.

South Sudan was represented at the summit by Anglican Archbishop Samuel Peni of Western Equatoria and Catholic Bishop Alex Sakor Eyobo of Yei.

Archbishop Peni said the ecumenical pilgrimage to South Sudan last year by Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and the moderator of the Church of Scotland had a ‘big impact’ on Christian leaders and the whole population.

The ecumenical cooperation that began long before South Sudan won its independence in 2011 ‘kind of disappeared’ when civil war began in 2013, he said. But ‘the visit of the ecumenical leaders brought people back together,’ he said. ‘The messages have been received,’ and there are new signs of hope.

Catholics and Anglicans ‘are brothers and sisters in Christ because of baptism. This is fundamental. We are equal in dignity.’

Bishop Marinez Bassotto of the Amazon, primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, told CNS that in her diocese ‘we have many, many projects together regarding defending, protecting and promoting the indigenous and territorial rights in the Amazon region.’

Her Catholic counterpart, Bishop Teodoro Mendes Tavares of Ponta de Pedras, said, ‘I work in a region in the Amazon where women are very proactive, they have a special role and very active role, particularly leading communities, so I believe the presence here of Bishop Marinez is very meaningful; it helps foster more connections toward what we do together, our mission together.’

The summit, he said, is focused on valuing the fact that Catholics and Anglicans ‘are brothers and sisters in Christ because of baptism. This is fundamental. We are equal in dignity.’

Banner image: Catholic and Anglican bishops take a candlelit pilgrimage tour of Canterbury Cathedral in England on 26 January, during the final part of a pilgrimage to Rome and Canterbury sponsored by the International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission. (Photo: CNS/Neil Turner, IARCCUM.)