The Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, will pay a brief, informal visit to Pope Francis I in Rome on June 14. According to a Lambeth Palace statement, it will be a “personal and fraternal” visit.
It will be the first meeting between the two prelates since their inaugurations in March. The two church leaders share a commitment to global justice, ethical regulation of financial markets and conflict resolution.
“This visit is an opportunity for the Archbishop and Pope Francis to review the present state of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion,” said a statement issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
“In particular, the interest shown by Archbishop Welby in global justice and the ethical regulation of financial markets…is echoed in the constant teaching of the Holy Father. Ever since his experience as an executive in an oil company, Archbishop Welby has placed great emphasis on reconciliation, and has continued to press for the resolution of conflicts within the Church and society.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, will accompany Welby. Following the meeting, Welby and Francis will preside jointly at a short service of prayer.
Archbishop Welby will also visit excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica and pray at the tomb of St. Peter, as did his predecessor, Archbishop Rowan Williams, on his first visit to Rome. He will also pray before the tomb of the late Pope John Paul II.
The special ties between the church in England and Rome stretch back to the sixth century when Pope St. Gregory the Great sent the missionary who was to become known as St. Augustine of Canterbury to Britain. In March 2012, Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI jointly led an evening prayer service in the ancient monastery church of Church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio in Rome, Augustine’s point of departure to Britain.
That marked the third time since the 1980s that the heads of the two churches shared a liturgical celebration in that historic setting. The previous occasions both occurred under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II-during the September 1989 visit of Archbishop Robert Runcie and the December 1996 visit of Archbishop George Carey.
Archbishop Welby plans to make a longer, more formal visit to Rome later this year.