Bishop John and Bishop John Flack recently spent three days in Rome visiting The Anglican Centre and meeting with Vatican officials. This was a return home for Bishop Flack as he was the Anglican Centre Director from 2003 to 2008.
“It was very special for me to return to my former residence in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj – an apartment in a 15th century Italian palace where the Anglican Church was granted a “grace and favour” space back in 1966 known as the ‘Anglican Centre in Rome’.
The Centre is a permanent Anglican presence in Rome and a living symbol of our Communion’s commitment to the unity of the Church. They met with Archbishop (Sir) David Moxon, the current Director and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See.
The official visit to the Centre was not the only highlight to their trip to Rome; they had an audience with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.
The Bishop of Brixworth said, “There must have been around 80 thousand people in the square and as we were led through the centre of the crowd past the Swiss Guards we were constantly being asked to smile for photos though I suspect few, if any, of the photographers had any idea who we were!”
When they reached the steps they were invited onto the platform and sat in the front row in full view of that vast crowd. Looking out it was a remarkable sight. Bishop John reflected; “The view into the Piazza was incredible. The shape of the colonnades is like a huge pair of arms reaching out to encompass the world and the square was full of people from all over the globe”.
In his address to the crowd Pope Francis spoke very positively about the role of women today. After his remarks there were about 80 Roman Catholic Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops who were each being officially welcomed by Pope Francis, waiting in a long queue to be greeted individually.
It was a beautiful spectacle as the Easter sunshine illuminated St Peter’s Square. The Cardinals were all dressed in black with a red sash across their waists shaking hands with Pope Francis in white. When the long queue had passed with many photographs it was time for small group of nuns to be photographed surrounding the pontiff.
Then it was time for the Peterborough Bishops. They brought greetings from Archbishop Justin and Bishop Donald to Pope Francis and spoke to him in Italian and English. “The friendship between Francis and Justin is genuinely warm.” Bishop John explained, “They respect and honour one another as Christian leaders”.
Our two Bishops were both given a Papal Medal commemorating the year of the Family. The medal refers to the text from the Second Vatican Council ‘familia … velut Ecclesia domestica’ – highlighting the encounter with God which takes place in a church building, but is developed further at home as parents teach faith to their children by word and the example of their lives.
One of the things that struck them both was that Pope Francis then asked them to pray for him as he promised he would pray for them. Bishop John said, “You could see that he is really interested in sharing God’s love story”.
Bishop Flack said, “He is just like the pictures of him in the newspapers – outgoing, friendly and very humble. He is transforming the relationship between the various Christian churches and wants to see the prayer of Jesus fulfilled, ”that they may all be one””.
Bishop John later had an opportunity to make a special pilgrimage to the Coliseum where he remembered the martyrdom of many early Christians who died there, especially in light of the recent news of Christians being murdered by terrorists.