Walking the talk: Catholics, Anglicans work together as they seek unity

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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — If Christians are called to live their
faith concretely, then they cannot leave out concrete signs of the unity to
which Jesus calls them.

And just because the formal Anglican-Roman Catholic
theological dialogue has been forced to grapple with new church-dividing attitudes toward issues
such as the ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex marriages, it does not mean that common
prayer led by Anglican and Catholic leaders and concrete collaboration by
Catholic and Anglican parishes are simply window dressing.

Dozens of Catholic and Anglican bishops and several hundred
priests and laity from both communities gathered in Rome in early October to
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Vatican meeting of Blessed Paul VI and
Anglican Archbishop Michael
Ramsey of Canterbury, almost 50 years of formal theological dialogue
through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (known as ARCIC)
and the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Center in Rome.

The celebrations, highlighted by an ecumenical evening
prayer service Oct. 5 with Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of
Canterbury, coincided with a meeting of a newer body, the International
Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, known as IARCCUM.

The commission brought together 19 pairs of Anglican and
Roman Catholic bishops from the same country or region to examine how, acting
together, they could witness to the faith and serve those in need locally and
recommend ways for Catholics and Anglicans globally do to the same.

Archbishop Donald Bolen, the Catholic co-chair of IARCCUM, said the
common theological agreements forged by ARCIC and accepted by both churches,
were never meant to sit on a library shelf, but “to transform our

“Every agreement of faith we register” should
translate into “common prayer, common witness, common study, common mission,
a common ecclesial life,” said the archbishop, who is about to be
installed as head of the Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan.

While sharing the Eucharist still is not possible, the
IARCCUM process is designed to encourage Catholic and Anglican communities to
do together everything possible based on the beliefs they share and on the
conviction that mission and ministry to a divided world require a common
Christian witness.

In his homily at the ecumenical evening prayer, Pope Francis
urged Catholic and Anglican bishops, before undertaking any new initiative in
their dioceses, to ask if it is possible to do the project together with their
Catholic or Anglican neighbors.

As Pope Francis had said Oct. 1 in Georgia when asked about
Catholic-Orthodox relations: “Let’s leave it to the theologians to study
the things that are abstract.” Everyone else in the church should be
asking how they can relate to other Christians as brothers and sisters.

The answer, he said, is: “Friendship. Walk together,
pray for each other, and do works of charity together when you can. This is

During a conference Oct. 5 at the Pontifical Gregorian
University reviewing the work of both ARCIC and IARCCUM, Archbishop Bolen said,
“You may say, and many have said, there are obstacles — including new
obstacles — that separate us,” but those issues “shouldn’t really
derail our ecumenical relations” because the relations are motivated by
Jesus’ prayer that his followers be one so the world would believe.

The pairs of IARCCUM bishops, he said, had spent days
discussing the challenges their people are facing: challenges of poverty;
threats to human life, including euthanasia; a massive influx of refugees and
migrants; war and violence; and increased secularization. “We need to be
together. We need to build bonds of communion between our churches, and the
world needs that.”

Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican Center, said that
through the work of ARCIC, “We have been given significant common ground
on which to stand.” He listed the agreed areas of faith as including: baptism,
belief in God as Trinity, the church as communion, and Scripture as the living
word of God. Additionally, there is substantial agreement on the meaning of
ordained ministry and on the Eucharist.

Paul Murray, a Catholic member of ARCIC, spoke about the
ecumenical process as one involving prayer and friendship, “unpicking the
knots” of past misunderstandings, recognizing legitimate differences and
sharing the gifts and strengths one community sees in the other.

Basically, there is a sense of ecumenism leading to
“loving desire for that which appears good and attractive in the other,”
he said. “At its heart, ecumenism is about falling in love with the grace
of God in the other.”

Gooder, a biblical scholar, one of the “Six Preachers” at
Canterbury Cathedral and an Anglican member of ARCIC, spoke of the conviction
that progress in the theological dialogue is possible, but only if “we
move away from wishing other traditions could be just like our own.”

Archbishop Welby told the conference that 50 years of
Catholic-Anglican dialogue means members of the churches know that “we love
one another. And at that point, we have to start talking honestly, more
honestly to each other and not putting out the best china” or pretending
to be only holy and healthy and strong.

Particularly by using the method of ecumenism espoused by
IARCCUM, he said, Anglicans and Catholics can heal the wounds they have
inflicted on each other and on the Body of Christ “not especially by
looking at each, but by walking side by side into a wounded world and seeking
to heal the world, and in so doing, finding we heal one another.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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