April / May 2015 - Vol. 79

Dave Quintana and
                          Fr. Bob Oliver in Rome
Dave Quintana from Servants of the Word (right) with Fr. Bob Oliver from Brotherhood of Hope (left)

An Anglican in Rome
Reflection on an Ecumenical Meeting for Consecrated Persons

by Andy Pettman

Q [Dave Quintana] turned to me, and said, “look! They are everywhere. They must be going to our conference.” But the closer we came to our destination, the more “them” there were, and the more we realised that, well in this city, you would find “them” on every street corner! The city was Rome, and the “thems” were nuns in traditional habits! 

This was not my first trip to Rome, but it was my first to a meeting arranged by the Vatican. As an Anglican, Rome holds more fascination for me as the capital of a lost empire, and as a European cultural contrast to my own English upbringing, than it does as a pilgrimage site. That notwithstanding the invite to “An Ecumenical Meeting of Consecrated Persons” had intrigued me, so when Ken Noecker, the presiding elder of the Servants of the Word, invited me to go to represent us, I did not hesitate to re-arrange my plans. 

On arrival at our venue, the Augustinianum, just outside St Peter’s Square, I was delighted at the welcome, and relieved, given the fairly short notice of the invitation, to find that, yes, they were expecting us.  Shortly after our appearance the conference began with a welcome from a red capped Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz. He was effusive in his expressions of delight that we had come, and come from so many different places.

ecumenical group in
                          Rome 2015

I looked around the room. What a mixture. There were of course Catholic nuns, and monks, and consecrated priests with all the usual garb – they made up a bit over half of the 110 of us. Then there were Orthodox - Serbians, Russians, Copts, Greeks, and a small tribe of Romanians – ten in fact –all from one monastery in Transylvania – in varying habits. But there were also Protestants – Lutherans, Free Church, Franciscan Anglicans, and Evangelicals. Moreover, there were two other ecumenical brotherhoods represented: Taizé, founded in eastern France; and Bose founded in northern Italy. Like the Servants of the Word both groups are constitutionally ecumenical, and have Catholic, as well as Protestant, and some Orthodox, members.

Cardinal João continued with words that set the heart theme of the conference. He commented: “We want to express unity in diversity”; and “We were the church of God, the one and only in the past…but now we have acknowledged the greater number of the things we have in common,” and “Ecumenism today allows everyone to acquire a truer approach.” I was already feeling very much at ease. Here was a man who represented the highest levels of the Catholic world, saying how much his church now recognized other churches and valued them. 

The rest of the conference was structured so to flesh out his words, with presentations from different groups and traditions during the day, and each evening ending with a bus journey to take us to our location for evening prayer in different church traditions. The first night we travelled to the vast basilica (but Rome is filled with vast basilicas!) called the Church of Jesus – the mother church for the Jesuits. The second night we journeyed to the beautiful Russian orthodox church of St Catherine of Alexandria, where we were packed into a tiny interior fugged with incense, and followed as the Orthodox monks canted the traditional evening prayers of the church. And the third night we found our way to All Saints Anglican Church for evensong - I felt quickly at home! 

ecumenical meeting
                          in Rome

But the conference was far more than a series of presentations, discussions and services. It was supposed to be a time of genuine getting to know one another, or communion, one tradition to another, even across language barriers. This being Italy the food was excellent, and so around lunch, or over a late morning snack, we would chat, sharing and laughing about many of the practical things we have in common: living together in community with all its ups and downs; experiencing being misunderstood in our call to live a celibate committed life; sharing our faith in a Europe that has lost its taste for believing in God; bringing new men and women into our different groups, and what helps them to find a home with us. The conversations were rich.

On the third day we had a private (at least private to the 110 of us) audience with Pope Francis.  Finding a path through the security queues, and then up stair ways secured by Swiss Guards, we made our way through the Apostolic Palace to the Clementine Hall, where Pope Francis would greet us. When he arrived he looked tired – he had just returned from Manila – but he was warm and gracious. From what I understand this conference was his inspiration, something ecumenical in the Year of Consecrated Life, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in its breadth possibly the first ever of it type.

Getting everything right all the time for a group as diverse as ours was never going to be easy.  On Friday, lunch was…well… normal – meat, a fine Friday dish in Rome. Later that day the Monsignor José Rodríguez Carballo who was leading us through the program made an official apology to the Orthodox in the group (who normally fast on a Friday) apologizing that there been no alternative to meat at the meal. What impressed me though was the real desire of the organisers, to try and get it right, to not offend, and the recognition that it is sometimes in small things like this that divisions are created between us.  But this time, we were not going to be divided.  

Andy Pettman is senior coordinator of Antioch Community in London, UK. He is a member of the Church of England which is part of the Anglican communion, and a household leader of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.
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