REGINA — A call for Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from around the world to work more closely together in witness and joint mission is part of the ongoing fruit of a unique eight-day gathering held earlier this fall in Canterbury and Rome, says Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen.
“We were commissioned as pairs of bishops to go and work together, to witness together wherever possible, and to encourage our brother bishops to work together,” says Bolen, one of the bishops from around the world commissioned for the task by Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
“The ongoing story is what the pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops can do together across Canada, and across the world.”
Bolen was the Canadian Catholic representative bishop at the gathering. He was paired with Canadian Anglican representative Bishop Dennis Drainville of Quebec.
Bolen also participated in the event as the Catholic co-chair of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), whose summit began with 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops gathering in Canterbury, and ended with a series of events in Rome.
The purpose of the summit was to discover where Catholics and Anglicans can give greater witness to their common faith and collaborate in mission to the world, based on 50 years of dialogue and the agreed statements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the IARCCUM document, “Growing Together in Unity and Mission.”
“The starting point was really to have each pair of bishops present on the pastoral and social problems in each of our contexts,” Bolen describes. “We were then asked to say how we are working together to respond to these problems, and invited to reflect on what more we can do together, faced with these challenges.”
Participating bishops represented regions around the world where Anglicans and Roman Catholics live side-by-side in significant numbers. The problems facing bishops from different countries around the world varied enormously, Bolen notes.
“In a context of deep oppression where Christians are being persecuted (such as Pakistan), working together means one thing; in the context of Canada or the United States, and a very secular society, it means quite another. And what you can do together in each context also depends on the quality of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations,” he says.
For instance, Bolen points out, Papua New Guinea has the closest relationship between Roman Catholics and Anglicans in the world. “However, in the United States, where the moral and social questions around same-sex blessings and same-sex marriage see the Catholic Church and the Episcopalians on opposing ends, it places some limits on what you can do together.
“So every context is unique, but in each of those contexts we were challenged to address those questions: What are our major problems? What are we doing together? What could we do together?”
The discussion included input from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, as well as from Dr. Anna Rowlands of Durham University, an expert in Catholic and Anglican social teaching.
The summit moved to Rome Oct. 3 - 7, where events included a pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, a one-day symposium marking 50 years of Anglican Roman Catholic relations, and vespers celebrated Oct. 5 by Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby at San Gregorio al Celio, the historic church from which Pope St. Gregory sent forth St. Augustine of Canterbury to England in the sixth century. “Because of that history, it was a perfect place for sending forth the pairs of bishops from around the world,” says Bolen.
The pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury also issued a joint statement that day, recalling the 1966 meeting of their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey in Rome, as well as the 50th anniversary of ARCIC and the establishment of the Anglican Centre in Rome as a place of encounter and friendship.
“We have become partners and companions on our pilgrim journey, facing the same difficulties and strengthening each other by learning to value the gifts which God has given to the other, and to receive them as our own in humility and gratitude,” says the joint statement of pope and archbishop.
“We are impatient for progress that we might be fully united in proclaiming, in word and deed, the saving and healing gospel of Christ to all people. For this reason we take great encouragement from the meeting during these days of so many Catholic and Anglican bishops,” the statement continues.
“Today we rejoice to commission them and send them forth in pairs as the Lord sent out the 72 disciples. Let their ecumenical mission to those on the margins of society be a witness to all of us, and let the message go out from this holy place, as the Good News was sent out so many centuries ago, that Catholics and Anglicans will work together to give voice to our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring relief to the suffering, to bring peace where there is conflict, to bring dignity where it is denied and trampled upon.”
A second vespers celebration held in Rome was particularly memorable for the way it brought home that key challenge to reach out to those who are suffering in our world, says Bolen. It included the presentation of a “Lampedusa cross” created from fragments of a ship carrying refugees that sank in the Mediterranean Sea, killing hundreds.
“None of us understood what a Lampedusa cross was,” says Bolen. “When it hit home to me what was being put into my hands by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, it was a powerful moment. When you hold that cross in your hands, you are holding these people and their tragedy close to you; it is tangible. It is linked to Pope Francis’ strong words at Lampedusa about a globalization of indifference, about how we are losing the capacity to feel the pain of others, and how we can’t let that happen. It was tremendously powerful.”
The eight-day event came at a pivotal moment for Bolen, held shortly after he finished a pilgrimage walking the Camino, as he was preparing to say farewell as bishop of Saskatoon and take up his new role as archbishop of Regina. It was also a highlight of his years of work on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations.
“This project IARCUUM is very close to my heart,” he says. “And happily it is close to the heart of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the pope, who are both concerned with practical ecumenism. While they both acknowledge the importance of dialogue, all of their focus and energy and effort is on building friendships and working together to serve the needs of others, as a result of the relationship that exists between us — as a result of our shared faith. It’s the right initiative at this moment with these two leaders.”