DIALOGUE WITH THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
Mons. Timothy Galligan,
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

1. "What occasion could be more suitable for encouraging progress on the path towards full communion than the shared celebration of the birth of Christ?... One of the highlights was the ecumenical meeting in St Paul's Basilica on 18 January 2000, when for the first time in history a Holy Door was opened jointly by the Successor of Peter, the Anglican Primate and a Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in the presence of representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communities from all over the world" (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, n. 12). The Pope had wanted this event to begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to show "how the restoration of Christian unity is a commitment we share and must inspire the great prayer being offered to the Lord in every part of the world during this Jubilee Year" (Sunday Angelus, 23 January 2000). The service constituted what the official presentation of the liturgy called "one of the most important ecclesial events of the whole Jubilee Year". The Archbishop of Canterbury too had recognized the importance of this special moment for bearing Christian witness and was one of the first to accept the Holy Father's invitation.

The Anglican Communion fully supported the ecumenical events subsequently led by the Holy Father as well. Notably, on 7 May the Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, took part in the Ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th Century at the Colosseuma ceremony which recalled, among testimonies from Asia and Oceania, the example of Anglicans from Papua New Guinea who died in Japanese concentration camps during the Second World War. Such "witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants ..." (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 37).

2. In May a very special event was held in Canada, one which may prove significant for Anglican-Catholic relations in the future. Cardinal Cassidy and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly presided over a weeklong meeting, at Mississauga in Ontarioa consultation involving a pair of senior Anglican and Catholic Bishops from each of 13 parts of the world where the relationship is, or should be, important: Australia, Brazil, Canada, England and Wales, India (Latin rite), Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Southern Africa, Uganda, United States and the West Indies.

The idea of holding such a consultation arose out of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope John Paul in 1996. In their Common Declaration they suggested that it might be "opportune at this stage of our journey to consult further about how the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church is to progress". They had also looked forward to the Great Jubilee as "an opportunity to proclaim afresh our common faith ...".

3. The agenda centred on an exploration of the degree of real but not yet complete communion Anglicans and Catholics share. It therefore involved review and discussion of communion in life (how relationships are in various parts of the world), communion in faith (what has emerged over 30 years of theological dialogue, especially through ARCIC); and the goal of full, visible unity (the difficulties and obstacles; and the degree of real but imperfect communion Anglicans and Catholics share). Since the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church are both episcopally led, the Bishops themselves were the meeting's primary resources. They worked together in a mixture of plenary sessions and discussions in groups and in pairs. All this, however, took place in a profound atmosphere of communion in prayer.

In the middle of the week all the participants joined in a public service of Evening Prayer in Toronto's Catholic cathedral, which was presided over by Cardinal Ambrozic, the Archbishop of Toronto, and his Anglican counterpart. The cathedral was filled to capacity with some 1,200 people, and another 200-300 outside. During the service, Cardinal Cassidy read a special message from the Holy Father, telling the participants that he was praying the meeting would bear lasting fruit.

The final days were given over to discussion and preparation of a draft plan of action and a statement from the participants. From what they wrote, it is clear the Bishops discovered through the liturgy and common prayer, and as a result of their discussions, that the special relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, mentioned in Unitatis redintegratio, n. 13, remains true. Their statement, Communion in Mission, speaks of "a profound atmosphere of friendship and spiritual communion"a reference not simply to a pleasant and successful meeting but to their discussion of the faith they share and the collaboration that has developed over recent decades. It is grounded in a broad acceptance of the fact that the ARCIC dialogue has shown the extent to which Anglicans and Catholics are now able to agree even in areas of past controversy. The common liturgical inheritance shared by Anglicans and Catholics is also constitutive of this spiritual communion.

4. Naturally, the serious, unresolved problems were not avoided. The participants acknowledged the weight of well-known differences, such as regarding women's ordination; they also recognized honestly the difficulty of advancing with some associated matters, such as the recognition of Anglican Orders by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Bishops underlined how serious a difficulty for a credible international dialogue diversity in Anglican teaching and the emphasis on provincial autonomy can be. The pain such obstacles cause on both sides, however, did not prevent the Bishops stating their judgement that what Anglicans and Catholics hold in common is greater than the differences. Their sharing during the week had allowed them to hear and understand each other in ways that made them recognize considerable elements of the same faith in each other, while admitting that serious obstacles remain. It was important that the participants reasserted together their commitment to the goal of full visible unity, even while very conscious of obstacles that seem beyond human capability to resolve.

In particular, the Bishops indicated that, because of what is held in common, greater communion in mission to the world should be possible. They called for the preparation of a "Joint Declaration of Agreement", which might express the elements of faith common to Anglicans and Catholics, and a new working group to look into its preparation. It is hoped that an announcement will be made very shortly of the composition of the working group for which the Bishops asked.

The presence of pairs of Bishops was singularly important. Not only did they have the chance to discuss future possibilities realistically as they went along; as representatives, they were urged to report back to the Bishops in their Province or Episcopal Conference so that new relationships might be developed. Hence, the meeting strongly recommended that national Anglican-Catholic dialogues should be set up where they do not currently exist.

5. It was a unique kind of meeting. Anglican and Catholic Bishops had not gathered together in such a way before. The geographical diversity and range of experience brought great riches. The Bishops lived and worshiped togetheran experience that was to contribute significantly to the positive outcome. The week began with a short "retreat", and each day was shaped by the liturgy and prayer together. The consultation was an experience of affective ecumenical collegiality. As they met and exchanged the Bishops experienced a growing responsibility for the ecumenical relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church and for furthering the mission of the Church. What may be the single most important result was the express desire of the participants that their fellow Bishops share a similar experience of the transforming power of such "ecumenical collegiality". They clearly believed this would enable more rapid progress on the journey to full visible unity.

The concluding statement reflects the realism at the meeting. The degree of real communion between Anglicans and Catholics was something the Bishops experienced and wished to underline. They believe in these years progress has been made in moving closer to the goal of full visible communion. They were not a self-selecting group of enthusiasts; they were Bishops chosen by their fellow Bishops to represent their Province or Episcopal Conference. Their experience together, and their desire that in the future other such experiences of collegial exchange should be created, suggest a real hope that the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church may be able to achieve greater communion rather than further divergence.

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
14 February 2001, page 6

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