Pope Francis has become the first Roman Pontiff to set foot in an Anglican Church in Rome. The symbolic act on the 26th of February is “hugely significant, yet surprisingly normal for two communities that are close to one another.” That closeness is not just in locality but in spiritual direction.
“Personally, as a parish priest of 17 years in this place, I can’t imagine a more fulfilling moment in my ministry,” Jonathan Boardman, pastor of All Saints Anglican Church in Rome said. He explained that it’s a very “natural and normal thing” for a group of Christians to welcome the leader of their brethren to their house.
The Anglican Church views the Pope and the Catholic priests as brethren because of the long years of ecumenical engagement which has led them to minimize distinctive doctrine and emphasize only those points which they have in common.
Pope Francis’ visit coincides with the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican Church in Rome, during which the pope will bless and dedicate an icon of “St. Saviour” commissioned for the occasion. Anglicans are involved in iconography similar to the Roman Catholic Church.
The service is designed to strengthen ecumenical ties between the Anglican Church and Roman Catholic Church. It involves a choral evensong and the pope is planning a short homily for the service. On March 13, there will be an Anglican rite choral evensong sung in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The symbolic “twinning” of All Saints Anglican Church with the Catholic parish of “Ognissanti” also took place during the liturgy, and is intended to form strong ecumenical ties between the two. Twinning is when two churches, or a church and an organization of some sort (like a hospital), establish a formal relationship intended to bond them together.
Other Anglican dignitaries that will be in attendance include Robert Innes, the Anglican Bishop in Europe and his suffragan David Hamid.
Noting that the visit builds on 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans, Boardman said Pope Francis “really determinately seeks to exhibit, to show the way in which he’s the Bishop of Rome and how that can be celebrated by other Christians who are present in Rome.” Pope Francis has dedicated himself to ecumenical engagement with other churches and communions.
Anglicans “are serious in giving honor to the Pope, in recognizing him as the leader of Christendom in some way,” said Boardman, “although obviously not in the juridical way,” Boardman said, explaining that this point “still keeps us separated.”
Boardman spoke highly of Benedict XVI’s Anglican Ordinariate saying it represents “a real generosity and attempt to meet some of the deficiencies, as they were conceived, of what kept us apart.”
In other words, contrary to some of his fellow Anglicans, Boardman doesn’t see any problem with the papal attempt to incorporate conservative Anglicans into the Catholic Church while keeping their Anglican identity, while working under papal authority.
Boardman certainly does not understand the Reformation and the necessity of maintaining it.
There are still barriers to full communion such as the ordination of women and homosexual priests in the Anglican Church and the Anglican acceptance of papal primacy.
“And all the world wondered…” Revelation 13:3.