Shortly after the Vatican announced that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had been elected Pope, the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, offered him a warm welcome as successor to Pope Benedict XVI. “We wish Pope Francis every blessing in the enormous responsibilities that he has assumed on behalf of Roman Catholics around the world,” he said in a statement issued from Lambeth Palace.
Archbishop Welby wrote that the election is of “great significance to all Christians,” and perhaps particularly so for Anglicans. “We have long since recognized—and often reaffirmed—that our churches hold a special place for one another. I look forward to meeting Pope Francis, and to walking and working together to build on the consistent legacy of our predecessors. May the love of Christ unite us, and intensify our service in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism that can be a blessing for the Body of Christ throughout the world.”
Pope Francis, an Argentine and the first Pope to come from the Americas, “is well known as a compassionate pastor of real stature who has served the poor in Latin America, and whose simplicity and holiness of life is remarkable,” Archbishop Welby noted. “He is an evangelist, sharing the love of Christ which he himself knows. His choice of the name Francis suggests that he wants to call us all back to the transformation that St. Francis knew and brought to the whole of Europe, fired by contemplation and closeness to God.”
Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, says he was moved by the humility of the newly elected Pope Francis’s request for the blessings of the faithful before he raised his hands to give his first papal blessing in St. Peter’s square in Rome on Wednesday evening.
“As the new Pope endeavours to call people back to the Faith, to rebuild the Church and to strengthen the integrity of its witness to the Gospel in very diverse global contexts, we join our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers in upholding him in our prayers,” Archbishop Hiltz wrote in a statement.
The election is a particularly proud moment for Latin America and a cause for rejoicing, Archbishop Hiltz said. “For from the church there the new Pope carries a passion for evangelism, a stance of solidarity with the poor and a posture of perseverance in the pursuit of peace and justice for all people.”
Hiltz, who will attend the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on March 21, noted that the two new leaders are embarking on their new ministries within days of each other. Archbishop Hiltz added that he hoped that “that their relationship will be marked by a genuine friendship in Christ, an abiding commitment to the work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, and a deep desire for our continuing ‘Growth in Unity, Faith and Mission.’ ”
Other Anglican leaders offered their prayers for the new Pope as well.
Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said: “Millions of Anglicans throughout the world will join me in praying for Pope Francis and his future ministry and leadership among our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church. The symbolism of electing a non-European emphasises the shift of the centre of world Christianity. We pray for him in the many challenges he and all who serve in positions of Christian leadership face today.”
Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said: “Pope Francis brings with him a wonderful reputation for social justice, care for the poor and humility…His appointment as leader of the Roman Catholic Church comes with great hope, expectations and responsibility…I offer my support and prayers, along with those of Australia’s Anglicans.”
The Most Rev. Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, noted that Pope Francis, being an Argentinian of European parentage, “brings together in his own person the cultures, hopes and spiritual needs of the first world and of the developing world, so much to be valued amidst the complexities and apprehensions of our globalised earth.”
The Most Rev. David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said: “God has called him to this ministry at a time when its demands seem overwhelming. We pray that God will equip him with the grace which he needs to fulfil the task. We also pray that his many gifts and his experience will enable him to lead the church forward in mission and service.”
Pope Francis succeeds Pope Benedict, who made history last month by being the first Pope to retire in 598 years.
— With files from the Anglican Communion News Service