ROME – Pope Francis will become the first Roman Pontiff to set foot in an Anglican parish in Rome tomorrow, marking a symbolic act the church’s pastor said is hugely significant, yet surprisingly normal for two communities that are close to one another.
“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, told CNA.
“It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened, except it isn’t,” he said, explaining that it’s a very “natural and normal thing” for a group of Christians to welcome the leader of their brethren to their house.
For Pope Francis to become the first Roman Pontiff to step inside an Anglican parish in Rome, then, is “the most exciting thing, and it’s the most normal thing,” he said, saying it’s a gesture “that explains a truth about our Christian living.”
Both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, he said, have to find “the excitement of the Gospel and the fulfillment of it” in everything they do, “from the most rare thing to the most ordinary thing,” such as giving to the poor and offering prayers together.
Pope Francis’s visit coincides with the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican parish community in the heart of the Eternal City, and will consist of a short choral Evensong service, during which the Pope will bless and dedicate an icon of “St. Saviour” commissioned for the occasion.
Ognissanti is the parish where Bl. Paul VI, on March 7, 1965, celebrated the first Mass in Italian following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
After the singing of Evensong during his visit to All Saints, Pope Francis is expected to deliver a brief homily before taking questions from the congregation.
Established in 1816, All Saints contains the largest Anglican congregation in Italy, and is headed by Boardman and his assistant chaplain, Dana English. Both pastors will be present to welcome the Pope for his visit Sunday, as well as Robert Innes, the Anglican Bishop in Europe, and his suffragan, David Hamid.
In his comments to CNA, Boardman said that in his opinion, the reason a papal visit to an Anglican parish is possible now rather than in the past is likely due to “the fact that we’ve got Pope Francis.”
Francis “really determinedly 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,” he said, noting that the visit builds on 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans.
This positive dialogue the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have enjoyed shows that Anglicans “are serious in giving honor to the Pope, in recognizing him as the leader of Christendom in some way, although obviously not in the juridical way,” Boardman said, explaining that this point “still keeps us separated.”
But from both the Catholic and Anglican sides, “I think both the Pope’s ability to recognize and accept and celebrate that (dialogue) with us, and our willingness to receive him and celebrate that (dialogue), are the two factors that have led us to where we are today.”
Pointing to Benedict XVI’s establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate in 2009 as a means of helping Anglicans who wish to become Catholic while maintaining certain elements of their liturgy and customs, Boardman called the move “a real generosity and attempt to meet some of the deficiencies, as they were conceived, of what kept us apart.”
While some on the Anglican side initially viewed the act as “hostile and invasive,” the pastor said for him that wasn’t the case, and that in his own personal view, the time has come “to settle down” and appreciate the gesture as “an act of generosity.”
“The degree to which Anglican patrimony truly has been inserted into the Roman Catholic world is something that’s ongoing,” he said, and noted that after the Pope’s visit to his parish this weekend, a Choral Evensong of the Anglican rite will be sung inside St. Peter’s Basilica March 13.
When it comes to progress Catholics and Anglicans have made toward unity, Boardman said he thinks the communities have grown closer, and that in his view “we’re closer to unity than we ever were before simply because time has passed and we’re nearer to God’s gathering us all in.
There has to be greater openness “to God’s surprising demands on us, and our alignment with his will where all of us, all Christians” make the sacrifices and take the steps needed in order “to truly align ourselves with God’s will.”
Dialogue “has flourished” in the past 100 years, particularly after the Second Vatican Council, he said, acknowledging that unity is closer, but there is still a long way to go.
“We’re only just beginning truly to be real friends and being able to talk about our differences and our problems as friends,” he said, adding that “we’ve got a ways to go to resolve them.”
Some of the biggest hurdles that still need to be overcome exist on both a spiritual and practical level, he said, noting that the first challenge is always “to be faithful to God and to grow in spiritual depth.”
Apart from this, major issues from the Catholic standpoint include the ordination of women and homosexual individuals, whereas for Anglicans, how to accept papal primacy without “changing the nature” of Anglicanism is still a looming concern.
But putting the hurdles aside, Boardman said he hopes the twinning of his parish with the Catholic parish of Ognissanti will help to foster “greater friendship between our two communities.”
The gesture will offer both communities a way to experience the spiritual life of the other while staying “true to our … disciplines” and growing together through various activities, such as service to the poor.
“We’ve already started in sharing some of the feeding programs to the homeless in Rome,” he said, explaining that Ognissanti has already launched various projects, “but now we are participating in them.”