Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016

On the first day of the Octave Methodists from Ponte Sant`Angelo and other Protestants join Catholics in our local Parish Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, welcomed warmly by Don Luigi and his parishioners who give us a reception afterwards in the Philip Neri Oratory hall. Pastor Eric Noffke (Italian speaking Methodist Church) and I give brief homilies interspersed with readings and prayer and hymns including O for a thousand tongues and Love Divine and Amazing Grace. Kassim Conteh (Methodist ministerial student at the Waldensian Faculty) and Seb Harries (Anglican ordinand) share in prayers and readings. Despite some uncertainties as a first venture, this is a service that is appreciated by the 50 who gather. I talk about an "ecumenism of action" as I relate John Wesley`s work with the Nazareth manifesto of Luke 4 and the Year of Mercy (wearing my new Year of Mercy stole). At the end we are invited to come to a font filled with water in which we are invited to dip our fingers and make an appropriate gesture to remind us of our common baptism. 

On Day Two we join the Anglicans at the Anglican Centre for their eucharist, with involvement from the Catholics and Methodists present in readings and prayers.  We have managed to secure enough pledges to secure a small picture of St Martin, presently on exhibit in the Centre with the theme of Reconciliation. We hope to hang it in the new Centre of the Methodist Ecumenical Office as a sign of our relationship with the Anglicans.

On Day Three I go out to Ostia on a cold evening to a meeting of the Sant`Egidio community who work with migrants and the poor in that area. I share something of our common Christian heritage, tracing the origins of Methodism back to earlier monastic movements and community outreach to the poor, through St Martin, St Francis of Assisi and St Philip Neri.  Methodism`s involvement of lay people (including women) and Wesley`s insistence on personal involvement with the poor resonate well with the community and our contemporary challenges of migration and poverty. We end with prayers attended by 60 people and a short homily in Italian from me.

On Day Four we join friends from The Lay Centre leading worship at the Centro Pro Unione after an inspiring address by Bishop Tom Wright on The Church and the People of God.  We hare off afterwards to sing with the All Saints Choir at the Church of Santa Cuore do Cristo Re for the Ecumenical Service for the Diocese of Rome with nearly 200 people. Clergy from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches fill the sanctuary and take part in the service devised by Christians in Latvia. Spiritual ecumenism in action as we also share in fellowship over refreshments afterwards meeting new friends.

On Day Six, I preach at the Beda College in the presence of three ambassadors, Archbishop Paul Callagher of the Vatican State Department, and a smattering of Protestants. I take the text "Blessed are the merciful" with some comments for the Year of Mercy and its ecumenical context. This sermon is extensively quoted and printed on the Zenit News website. Here is the link if you want to read it. http://zenit.org/articles/interview-all-pope-francis-says-does-opens-doors-once-shut-says-christian-leader-in-rome/

On Day Seven, I preside at a Methodist Eucharist at All Saints,another first on a Sunday there as we develop the growing relationship between our two Churches.  Canon Jonathan Boardman preaches and leads worship at PSA. Both congregations appreciate our different contributions. A few All Saints dissidents stay away or go to St. Paul`s.  In the afternoon we have our Churches Together in Rome service with a very different feel to that of the Beda College who used the same material. Willie McCulloch preaches in his thick Scottish brogue and is mostly understood.   Then in the evening we go to a splendid concert at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, by the Choirs of the Sistine Chapel and the Dresden Frauenkirche Church,  singing Palestrina, Bach and Mendelssohn to honour a growing rapprochement between Lutherans and Catholics.

The Octave ends, as always on the Feast of the Conversion of Paul 25th January at the Basilica of St. Paul`s without the Walls.  We wonder whether the rumours of changes to the arrangements will be true as indeed they are when we find that Pope Francis has made encouraging innovations. 12 ecumenical representatives, 6 Orthodox, 6 Protestant, were invited to process in with him after he had arrived and greeted us in the narthex. And yes, I was one!

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Three Anglicans, 2 Lutherans (who were much in the news that day as the Pope will go to Lund in October for Reformation Day) and me. We were promoted to the front row this year so my wife Angela too got to be greeted by Pope Francis on the way out.

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The service is a simple mix of psalms and bible texts, a homily and prayers with the Magnificat and Lord's Prayer sung together. We enjoy hearing again the Sistine Choir and the Dresden Frauenkirche Choir singing together, ecumenism in music!

Pope Francis sums up the atmosphere of this extraordinary start to the year when he says: "In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we must always keep in mind that there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father's mercy. We ask first of all for forgiveness for the sins of our divisions, which are an open wound in the Body of Christ. As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God's mercy will renew our relationships. In this atmosphere of intense prayer, I extend fraternal greetings to his Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, representing the Ecumenical Patriarch, to His Grace David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal representative in Rome, and all the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial communities who are gathered here this evening. With them we walked through the Holy Door of this Basilica to remind ourselves that the only door which leads to salvation is Jesus Christ our Lord, the merciful face of the Father." 

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