The Convocation of American Churches in Europe

In Rome with the Archbishop of Canterbury (See some pictures.)

(Download the Rome release.rtf. Also, read Bp. Pierre’s Anglicans Online opinion piece.)

The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, Bishop in charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, was invited to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. & Rt. Hon. Rowan Williams, on his historic trip to Rome. The occasion was the fortieth anniversary of the opening of dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, which included the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Other members of the Archbishop's party were Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth, Australia (Co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission), Bishop David Beetge of South Africa (Co-chair of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission), Bishop Stephen Platten of the Diocese of Wakefield, England, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, Bishop John Flack, Director of the Anglican Centre, as well as the Anglican and Episcopal clergy of Rome, Canon Gregory Cameron, Vice-Secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and members of the Lambeth Palace staff.

The Rev. R. William Franklin, a priest of the Convocation and Fellow and Associate Priest at the Anglican Centre, opened the week's festivities on Monday November 20 with a lecture at the Centre on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations today, and conducted the re-dedication of the Centre's 11,000-volume library. The Archbishop followed the next day with a speech on the Rule of St. Benedict offering. On Wednesday the Community of St Egidio, a Roman Catholic order devoted to peacemaking, hosted the Archbishop and his party for a commemoration of the seven recently martyred Melanesian Anglican brothers. This was especially moving, as Archbishop Williams had himself gone to Melanesia in July 2004 to celebrate the ministry and witness of these Anglican martyrs.

As Americans awoke on Thanksgiving Day, Rowan Williams met with Pope Benedict XVI, and the two issued a Joint Declaration. The Archbishop said later that the meeting, and indeed the week, exceeded his expectations. He felt he had begun a personal relationship marked by trust with the Pope during their private talk. He received assurances that the forty-year-old dialogue, which has produced very significant agreements on theological issues in dispute for centuries, would continue despite new difficulties. And the whole visit was marked by a warmth and friendliness toward him, his wife Jane, and son Pip.

That evening Archbishop Williams gave a very significant lecture to the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences. "It was nothing less than outlining a new theology for Christian political engagement in secular societies," reported Bishop Whalon, who had joined the visit at that point. The audience hall of the Casina Pio IV was full, and included several cardinals and Roman bishops. "Several Catholic cardinals and bishops commented enthusiastically to me about what they felt was an extraordinary event. One cardinal told me how blessed the Anglican Communion is to have such a great theologian as our spiritual leader," Whalon said. The talk was broadcast by Italian television, and given front-page attention in several Roman dailies the next morning.

On Friday, the Anglican and Episcopal clergy in Rome gathered with the Archbishop's party and guests at the Anglican Centre for a celebratory Eucharist and luncheon. Archbishop Williams began his homily by noting that St. Augustine of Canterbury was reluctant to leave Rome for far-off England, but he went anyway. This perseverance, Williams opined, was probably due to the unknown companions of Augustine, who encouraged him to continue: "Oh go on, you can do it." The success of the Anglican Centre was due not only to its directors, but like Augustine, to the many unsung people who encouraged them to go forward—“Oh go on”—despite the many difficulties they encountered. Bishop Flack and his wife Julia hosted the luncheon that followed, and were themselves honored by Archbishop Williams and Bishop Platten, who chairs the Governors of the Centre.

From there the Archbishop’s party went to Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the parish of which Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, is titular rector. He officiated at the ecumenical Evensong, taken from Common Worship of the Church of England and sung by the combined choirs of All Saints Anglican Church and St. Paul’s-Within-the-Walls, as well as seminarians of the Venerable English College. Walter Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Williams both preached on the text from II Corinthians 4:10 “we carry the death of Christ in our bodies, so that the life of Christ made be manifest in our lives.” Cardinal Kasper’s homily focused on the past forty years of dialogue, during which, he said, both churches have had to reveal their “wounds and weaknesses” to the other. He reminded the congregation of the sin of the churches, which is manifest in division. The cardinal reiterated that whatever the present difficulties, the commitment and the movement of both churches toward full communion are “irreversible.”

Archbishop Rowan in his homily reminded people that the dialogue is in its infancy, though the “baby” has already learned to speak a sophisticated language. Nevertheless, the movement of both churches toward one another could only take place at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. Our divisions are the death of Jesus in our bodies, he said, so only united at the foot of the Cross will the life of Jesus be made manifest in us. And that life must one day—however distant—be made manifest in common celebration of the Eucharist.

The Joint Declaration by the Pope and the Archbishop was read, and Bishop Flack led the prayers. One heartening aspect of the Declaration is the expresssion of gratitude to the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission for their work on an important document, “Growing Together in Unity and Mission.”

A family-style dinner at the English College, where the Williams were staying, closed the evening. The affection of the members of the College for the Williams and their warmth for the College were evident. In casual remarks after toasts, the Archbishop spoke of the deep friendship he shares with Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the former rector of the College.

Saturday morning, the Archbishop visited St. Paul’s-Within-the-Walls. He was warmly welcomed by Bishop Whalon, the Rev. Dr Michael Vono, Rector of the parish, and the Revs. Susan Skillen and Bill Franklin. The visit began at the great cast bronze doors of the church, named “Towards Christian Unity,” commissioned to celebrate the new spirit of dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics begun in the unofficial meeting between Archbishop Fisher and Pope John XXIII. Entering through the great doors, the Archbishop was given time to contemplate the famous mosaics of Edward Burne-Jones, one of his favorite pre-Raphaelite artists, that cover the apse from floor to ceiling. “Now that you have seen one of our treasures,” said Bishop Whalon, “now we want you to see our living treasures, the refugees God sends to us.” The group moved to the undercroft, where the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center is located. Dr. Vono introduced the Archbishop to Akbatan Abdulla, known as “Tuana,” (which means “force”), the one-time refugee from Kurdish Iraq who now heads the Center; Fr. Peter, a Roman priest who has counseled refugees at the Center since it opened 22 years ago, and Sister Rosie, a nun who helps daily in the Center, the only daytime center for refugees in all the city of Rome. Bishop Whalon invited the Archbishop to sit and have coffee with some of the refugees, which he did with obvious pleasure.

Before he left, the Archbishop heard from the Rev. Susan Skillen, who heads the Episcopal Mission in Orvieto, about the very close ecumenical relationship with the Bishop and diocese of that city. The mission church has grown steadily since opening on Easter Sunday 2005. He also heard from Dr. Vono about the strong Nigerian presence in the parish, including a former Senior Warden. Archbishop Williams presented Dr. Vono with a bronze cast of the Canterbury Cross and the archiepiscopal arms. Bishop Whalon gave the Archbishop a copy of the parish’s history by Judith Millon containing color plates of the mosaics, and recordings by the parish’s Latin American Community’s Matices and the choir. Dr. Vono thanked the Archbishop for being willing to visit St. Paul’s and the Joel Nafuma Center, and expressed his hope that this would be an encouragement to the American church.

After celebrating the Sunday Eucharists in English and in Spanish, Bishop Whalon joined the Canterbury group at Santa Sabina, the main Dominican church of Rome and the parish which hosts the annual Ash Wednesday service of the Pope. The full church rang with happy voices as very traditional English hymns blended with African song and percussion instruments. Fr. Don Bolen, an Canadian Catholic priest who is secretary to the Pontifical Council on Christian Unity, read the Gospel from John. The final sermon by Rowan Williams during his Roman visit focused on this Gospel passage, the scene of Pilate’s judgment of Jesus. Noting that Jesus came to be the Truth of the world, the Archbishop called both the Roman and Anglican Churches to spend time together in the depths of the Truth of Jesus welling up from the depths of human life. He spoke of his visit the day before to the catacombs, a deep place of “peace and victory,” words he saw inscribed on the walls of the ancient Christian burial chambers. Our divisions cannot be resolved simply by some theoretical agreements on doctrine, but only by being willing to go down to the depths, where the Eternal Truth of Jesus constantly wells up. The bishops and priests surrounded the Archbishop to concelebrate the Eucharist. A group from the Anglican chaplaincy of Macerata brought up the gifts in traditional West African style, with chants and drums and cries of “Alleluia!”

Contact: Vicky Millet

Convocation of American Churches in Europe


Archbishop Rowan in Rome, with Bishop Pierre