Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are thinking seriously about Christian unity. "Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury, but something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs," they say.
Meeting formally for the third time to mark the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome, they reported in a joint statement they are "undeterred" by the "serious obstacles" to full unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
In their Common Declaration, they said that differences over issues such as women's ordination "cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism."
"Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other's traditions."
The Common Declaration was made at a service of Vespers in the Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill in Rome, from where in 595 AD, Pope Gregory sent Augustine to evangelize the Anglo-Saxon people. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597.
During the service, 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from across the world were commissioned by the Pope and Archbishop before being ‘sent out’ in mission together.
"Fourteen centuries ago, Pope Gregory sent the servant of God, Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, and his companions, from this holy place, to preach the joyful message of the Word of God,” Pope Francis told them. “Today we send you, dear brothers, servants of God, with this same joyful message of His everlasting kingdom."
"Our Savior commissioned his disciples saying, 'Peace be with you',” Archbishop Justin Welby added. “We too, send you out with His peace, a peace only He can give. May His peace bring freedom to those who are captive and oppressed, and may His peace bind into greater unity the people He has chosen as His own."
The meeting comes 50 years after Pope Paul VI and Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey met in Rome in a historic spiritual healing of the four-century rift between the two churches.
Pope John Paul II later went on to meet Archbishop Robert Runcie, and then Archbishop George Carey, and Pope Benedict XVI met Archbishop Rowan Williams, also praying together at St Gregory's.
"Fifty years ago our predecessors recognized the 'serious obstacles' that stood in the way of a restoration of complete faith and sacramental life between us,” Archbishop Welby and the Pope declared. "Nevertheless, they set out undeterred, not knowing what steps could be taken along the way, but in fidelity to the Lord's prayer that His disciples be one. Much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart.
"Yet new circumstances have presented new disagreements among us, particularly regarding the ordination of women and more recent questions regarding human sexuality."
Behind these differences lies a perennial question about authority.
"These are today some of the concerns that constitute serious obstacles to our full unity. While, like our predecessors, we ourselves do not yet see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred.
"In our trust and joy in the Holy Spirit we are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for His Church. We trust in God's grace and providence, knowing that the Holy Spirit will open new doors and lead us into all truth."
The human person is demeaned by personal and societal sin, they added.
"In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering, which also many of our brothers and sisters in Christ today endure. In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalized and discarded. In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief.
"Our Christian faith leads us to recognize the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honor it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace. As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates."
MAY OUR LORD'S NAME BE GLORIFIED. EACH AND EVERY PERSON MUST HAVE THE BORN-AGAIN EXPERIENCE OF THE SALVATION OF JESUS CHRIST AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER THROUGH OUR UNITY IN CHRIST. WE PRAY FOR IT. OUR LORD SAID, "THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT, THAT YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AS I HAVE LOVED YOU" (JOHN 15:12).