A Historic Weekend in Rome

My trip to Rome was a bigger adventure than I had expected. The Alitalia plane dropped gently down towards Fiumicino airport. I looked forward to a smooth landing. However, just as the wheels were about to touch the ground, the plane suddenly accelerated. My heart began to beat a little faster. A fire? A terrorist incident? We gained height rapidly and banked sharply away from the airport. Soon, we had left bright lights of Fiumicino far behind us. Some minutes later, the captain explained what had happened. As he arrived on the runway, he saw the preceding plane was ‘far too close’. I was thankful for the quick reactions of our pilot. It was an exciting start to an exciting weekend!

We gathered to celebrate 200 years of Anglican worship in Rome. The readings for our Sunday services related to the transfiguration of Christ. Jesus goes up to a high mountain, and his face and clothes are changed or ‘metamorphosed’. How appropriate! Because in 200 years, how the Anglican community in Rome has changed. At the beginning of the 19th century Anglican worship in the city was illegal. The first public services took place in 1816. Gradually, but reluctantly, the authorities allowed public worship to be celebrated. But police were posted, presumably to make sure that the Catholic faithful were not tempted to join in. Now the community of All Saints inhabits a wonderful building centrally located near the Spanish Steps; it has teaching programmes for adults and children; it sustains a range of worship. It has a woman priest. And, along with our other churches in Italy, it has State recognition.

Morning worship took place as usual (albeit with Bishops Robert, David Hamid and David Moxon up front), and I delivered a sermon on Transfiguration, which can be found here. But the main event was in the afternoon. We looked forward with great anticipation to the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis. This was the first time a Bishop of Rome had visited an Anglican parish in his own diocese. In fact, as far as we are aware, the first time a Roman Pontiff has visited any ‘ordinary’ Anglican parish (rather than let’s say a Cathedral). Precautions were elaborate: the building had to be ‘swept’; security was tight; the police presence in the street extensive. The church was packed and there was great excitement when Pope Francis arrived.

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The service began with formal welcomes from the chaplain of All Saints and the Diocesan Bishop (my Welcome can be found here). In my greeting, I referred to the Pope’s global leadership role in such things as migration, the refugee crisis and the care of the poor, and to the inspiration he has been to the Anglican Communion. The Pope was then invited to bless and dedicate a glorious icon of ‘St Saviour’ commissioned specially for the occasion.

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After this, he led the congregation in the renewal of baptismal vows, before moving to the chancel, from which he and I presided over the rest of the service.

In his sermon, the Pope spoke of the fruitful grace of Christ that is at work between Catholics and Anglicans, after centuries of mutual mistrust. He expressed gratitude to God for the desire amongst Christians for greater closeness. He indicated that, although progress towards full communion sometimes seemed slow and uncertain, this first visit of a Bishop of Rome to All Saints was a sign of encouragement. You can find a full English translation of his sermon here.

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After his sermon Pope Francis responded to three questions submitted to him in advance. Perhaps most significantly in his answers, he referred to the planning of a visit by him and Archbishop Justin to South Sudan, at the request of church leaders there. This would, of course, be hugely significant for this desperately war-torn country and for our common witness to peace. The service continued with the formal signing of a twinning arrangement between All Saints and the Catholic Parish of Ognissanti – the titular church of Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The service was planned to conclude with an exchange of gifts. But what do you give the world’s most important religious leader? The people of All Saints gave him chutneys, marmalades and a simnel cake – beautifully appropriate in my opinion.

It was a truly wonderful weekend for All Saints Rome and for our Diocese in Europe. Pope Francis conveyed humanity, warmth, humility and grace. In our final exchange he requested: ‘pray for me’. I will. He is a most remarkable man and a great world leader. He needs and deserves our prayers.

You can find a high quality film of the entire papal visit to All Saints here, courtesy of the highly professional Vatican News Service.

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Faith in Lyon – Visiting the Anglican Community

It took three and three-quarter hours to travel by TGV from Brussels to Lyon, far enough to be in a different climate, where the crocuses, primroses and even some daffodils were in bloom. We checked in to a family-run hotel close to the magnificent Place Bellecour, in the heart of France’s second city.

There was just time to change before leaving for Mass, where chaplain Ben Harding and I were guests of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. He gave me a gracious introduction and invited me to read the gospel. The temperature inside the splendid cathedral was icy, and we were glad of our coats.

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Bishop Robert Innes and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin with the RC auxiliary bishop and The Revd. Ben Harding at Lyon’s Catholic Cathedral.

After Mass, Cardinal Barbarin took Ben and me to his home for dinner. Underneath the community building where he lives, down many staircases, is a crypt in the process of renovation. He told us that under the crypt are interred the bodies of second century Christian martyrs who had originally been thrown into the river. We prayed together in this holy place. The city of Lyon truly takes us back to the some of the oldest expressions of Western Christianity.

Conversation over dinner was wide-ranging, interesting and frequently humorous. The Cardinal has been a good friend both to Ben and his predecessor Chris Martin, and we were grateful for his warm hospitality.

The following morning, Helen and I had the pleasure of meeting the Council of the Anglican Church, over a second breakfast. Our church in Lyon is highly international and holds together recent arrivals and more transient members with some who have been long and faithful members of the community. We talked about the church’s outreach work: the counselling service founded by Susie Martin, links with relief agencies, partnership with a thriving neighbouring Roman Catholic community. The community is dispersed across and beyond this large city, and I learnt that mid-week gatherings like mums-and-toddlers and social networking are important for keeping people in touch.

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Churchwardens Roy and Kay, Reader Keith, Treasurer Ben, Secretary Diana and Council members Julie, Jean, Gina and Grace with Ben Harding, +Robert and Helen for a team photo.

In the afternoon, there was some free time to explore the historic centre of Lyon. We took the funicular up to the magnificent Roman amphitheatres – Lyon was the most important city of Roman Gaul – and walked along to la Fourvière’s panoramic view of the city.

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Above: Lyon – Roman and Modern.

In the evening, we shared goûter at Ben and Jo Harding’s home with the confirmation candidates – three adults and two youngsters. After discussion about our various faith journeys, Ben had arranged a short night-hike in the neighbouring woods. Equipped with candles, stout shoes and a few torches we allowed ourselves to experience the darkness and reflected on some Bible passages that testified to Jesus as the light coming into the world. Albeit somewhat tamer than, say, spending a week fending for oneself in the forest, Ben envisaged this as something of an initiation rite for the two young lads in transition to manhood. It was a memorable part of the confirmation. (Actually, the exercise was made a more realistic test of courage than I had expected when we encountered a lone male in the woods in dark clothing, who was probably there for less spiritual reasons than ourselves…)

The following morning we gathered in the Anglican Church’s place of worship – an ecumenical centre owned by Roman Catholic nuns called ‘En-Guédi’. In a lively act of worship accompanied by a music group, we confirmed our candidates. After the service we enjoyed a ‘bring and share’ lunch, and it was – even in February – warm enough to eat together in the garden behind the centre.

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Confirmation candidates: Roman, Matthew, Christine, Laurent and Denise.

Helen duly returned from Part-Dieu north to Brussels, whilst I travelled on South to St. Raphael to interview for a new chaplain. We had shared a most encouraging and joyous weekend with this dynamic church community.

 

 

A Year in the Life of the Bishop in Europe – Part 2

Back in August 2016, I posted a piece entitled ‘A Year in the Life of the Bishop in Europe’, a round-up of my comings-and-goings with some reflections for the end of the academic year. Now early in 2017, I think it worthwhile to complete the task with a review of the last few months of 2016.

Last summer, many people across the diocese were facing some terribly challenging happenings: the migration crisis, Brexit, terrorism. Those challenges are still with us. Yet, with and despite the confusing and worrying times in which we live, my basic Christian outlook remained gratitude for the examples of growth in unlikely places, signs of hope and fresh life. Snapshots from Riga, Budapest, Vienna and others illustrated for me a Christian faith which protests against the idea that life is grim and the world is getting worse, or that we must keep ourselves to ourselves in self-protection from the outside world.

The same abiding hopefulness sustained me equally in the latter half of 2016. Here are some highlights:

In September, I was glad to be able to preside at confirmations in Belgrade, ably hosted by Fr. Robin Fox. The visit was a joyful one, but it also gave me the opportunity for a long and helpful meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej.

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St. Mary’s Belgrade

This meeting with our Orthodox friends wasn’t the only ecumenical encounter as I joined fellow Anglican bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a special meeting in Rome of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). Being paired with Bishop Johan Bonny, Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp, prior to our joint commissioning by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby, was a wonderful sign of our desire to work more closely together in witness and joint mission as part of the ongoing fruit of our Churches’ relationship.

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Being paired with Bishop Johan Bonny

Back in Belgium, in was a pleasure to celebrate the commissioning of two new archdeacons in the diocese. Paul Vrolijk was made the new Archdeacon of North-West Europe at a gathering of the Archdeaconry Synod in Drongen. He took over from Meurig Williams following Meurig’s move to become the new Archdeacon of France.

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New Archdeacons: Meurig Williams (left) & Paul Vrolijk (right)

November took me on into Switzerland, where there was a truly joyful confirmation service in Vevey. The previous evening we had baptised two of the candidates in sub-zero temperatures in a hot-tub overlooking the Alps.

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All Saints Vevey

Over on the other side of the diocese, in Ankara, was the biggest confirmation group so far. Over 50 Iranian refugees were presented as candidates at St. Nicholas’ Church, and I was deeply moved by the poignant personal stories they shared with me.

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St Nicholas’ Ankara

December closed with an invitation to preside and preach at Holy Trinity pro-cathedral in Brussels. After a year of many unsettling events, it was a special time to preach a message of hope to a packed-out church on Christmas morning, remembering the hope that comes with the birth of Jesus.

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Holy Trinity Brussels

I write this now in the second month of 2017, at the end of a week in which I have licensed a new chaplain in Poitou-Charentes, confirmed 11 adults and young people in Brussels, interviewed ordination candidates in London, and helped select a new chaplain in Athens. All of these activities are concerned with building of the body of Christ – either directly in the ministry of word and sacrament, or indirectly through the recruitment and appointment of the church’s ordained clergy. Thank you to all who pray for me, as I endeavour to support others in their walk with Christ.

Anglican-Orthodox Conference on Modern Slavery, Istanbul

There are an estimated 46 million enslaved people in the world. The trade in ‘slaves’ is worth €150bn a year globally – second only to drug trafficking. By contrast the OECD countries only spend €1bn per annum tackling it. 76% of victims are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. Many of the rest are trapped in forced labour –in Europe that is mainly in agriculture, the construction industry and domestic servitude.

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It was to address the terrible issue of modern slavery that the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, hosted in early February a joint Anglican/Orthodox conference in Istanbul. The Diocese in Europe was represented by Canon Malcolm Bradshaw MBE, Chaplain of Greater Athens, and Bishop’s Attaché David Fieldsend.

The conference was entitled ‘Sins Before Our Eyes – A Forum on Modern Slavery’. Both Archbishop Justin and Patriarch Bartholomew gave keynote addresses underlining the importance they gave to the issue and dedicating their respective churches to action. Archbishop Justin graciously mentioned the work of the Diocese in Europe on both refugees and trafficking.

Experiences from every continent were shared in discussion, and Malcolm Bradshaw spoke about his work in Greece with refugees and trafficking victims. He was one of many speakers to highlight links between unaccompanied children fleeing conflict and left vulnerable in a strange land and the growth of human trafficking. Archbishop Justin talked of the shameful lack of urgency in rescuing such children shown by state authorities in a number of European countries. He had been involved in a case of three orphaned children of primary age, living alone together in the ruins of a bombed out building in Aleppo. They were turned down for asylum in Britain, even though they had an uncle living in London. One of the reasons given was that they had failed to submit their form online!

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David Fieldsend reported on the diocesan survey on activity to combat human trafficking. He mentioned the recruiting of archdeaconry co-ordinators to publicise the issue and arrange training. He described the first area training day in Belgium.

Archbishop Justin spoke of the need for customers and investors to learn more about the supply chain of products they were buying so they could be sure that slave or child labour had not been involved. The new UK Modern Slavery Act requires companies to report on actions taken (or lack of them) to investigate their supply chains so as to eliminate suppliers using slave labour. There was also a report from the Church Commissioners on investments, and the steps being taken to hold companies to account on this.

One Orthodox Bishop referred to modern slavery as ‘an abomination and a plague’ These numbers involved (easily surpassing those of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that William Wilberforce fought to suppress) are daunting and participants were asked to consider how it was possible that such a massive criminal activity could be taking place in plain sight in Europe. There was talk of a climate of ‘the globalisation of indifference’, which sadly many in the churches seemed not to be immune from. Reference was made to William Wilberforce’s remark to his opponents during a parliamentary speech: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but never say again that you did not know’.

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The conference closed with the signing of a joint declaration by Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin. It called for church leaders ‘to find appropriate and effective ways of prosecuting those involved in human trafficking, preventing all forms of modern slavery, and protecting its victims in our communities.’ Christians must ‘become educated, raise awareness, and take action with regard to these tragedies of modern slavery, and commit themselves to working and praying actively towards the eradication of this scourge.’ We commit to ‘the establishment of a joint task force for modern slavery to bring forward timely recommendations as to how the Orthodox Church and the Church of England can collaborate in the battle against this cruel exploitation’.

The official joint declaration can be found here.

A New Chaplain for Christ the Good Shepherd, Poitou-Charentes

On the first Friday in February, we headed South on the TGV to Poitou-Charentes. Later this year, the new high-speed TGV line to South West France will be commissioned, cutting the journey time from Paris to Bordeaux to just two hours. But even at present, the newly refurbished TGVs are a very pleasant way to travel across France.

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Adam Boulter and his family arrived in Poitou-Charentes in November. On 4th February he was to be licensed as chaplain by the Bishop and installed by the Archdeacon. The chaplaincy of Christ the Good Shepherd was originally a plant from Aquitaine to the South. The chaplaincy covers four departments: Vienne, Deux-Sevres, Charente and Charente-Maritime. The chaplaincy has (depending how you count them) 12 to 15 worship centres and covers a territory 25% bigger than Wales!

This part of France is known for its vineyards – for its sweet, fortified wine ‘Pineau’, and its better known spirits – Armagnac and especially Cognac.

We were kindly hosted by Stuart and Evelyne Woodrow who live along the banks of the River Charente, near the town of Cognac. On the night of our stay there was a furious storm. This led to a complete power failure. Entertaining a visiting bishop with no electricity could be challenging, and they handled the situation most graciously.

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On the Saturday morning, we drove some 45 minutes to the church of Mansle which had been chosen for the ceremony because of its central location. The licensing service started half an hour late, as various people negotiated the fallen trees. Archdeacon Meurig had a much longer drive than expected from his home in Limoges.

Adam comes to Poitou-Charentes with an interesting range of experience. He was previously chaplain of the Episcopal Church of Aqaba in Jordan. He was also Mission to Seafarers Port Chaplain and had area responsibility for Mission to Seafarers work across the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. So he is no stranger to looking after mixed international congregations and supervising activities across a large area. Adam is both a priest and an artist. What a wonderful combination for ministry!

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Adam was presented for licensing by the churchwardens, Ted Hands and Ann White, with Richard Bromley from ICS. After the service the parish laid on a magnificent bring and share lunch. Adam is married to Beth, and they have three children: Joseph, Hannah and Benjamin. The photo shows two of the children… Hannah preferred not to be photographed.

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The licensing of a new chaplain is a huge event for a chaplaincy, bringing to an end a long process of discernment and opening up many possibilities for the future. Do pray for Adam, Beth, Joseph, Hannah and Benjamin as they settle into their new home, progress with language learning and make friends. And do pray for Adam as he leads a large team of retired clergy, readers and worship leaders and seeks to find the way forward for Anglican mission and ministry in Poitou-Charentes.

Unity in Naples

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded in 1908 by the Anglican Paul Watson. Over the last 100 years it has become a major feature of the church calendar around the world. Helen and I spent a couple of days of this year’s Week of Prayer in Naples as guests of the Sant’Egidio Community.

Sant’Egidio is a lay, Catholic community that was founded in 1968 by Andrea Riccardi. Its aims include peacebuilding, work with the poor, and ecumenical and inter-faith relations.  The first, and still the biggest, community is in Rome. The second community is in Naples. I was encouraged to visit the Naples community by Monica Attias, who is the community’s ‘ambassador’ to the Anglican church.

Our flight from Brussels to Naples was particularly beautiful, as the sky was clear and the Alps covered in snow. We were met at the airport by Marco, the wonderfully hospitable community member who was to be our host. Naples is the kind of city where it is handy to have lots of good friends. One of Marco’s friends is in the hotel business, so we were able to stay at a rather lovely hotel in the centre of town. Well, it was lovely inside – the built architecture in that part of Naples is in the brutalist ‘fascist’ style – a standing reminder of a very difficult time in the city’s history.

After lunch with Marco and his wife Milana (pizza naturally), we were met by two burly Italians who drove us to our first engagement. Marcos was a retired bodyguard; Alfonso a driver for the military police. We were in safe hands! The driving in Naples is, of course, legendary, and Alfonso’s ability to drive exactly down the middle of two neighbouring motorway lanes in order to keep his options open was particularly exhilarating.

We were guests of the parish of Saint Morris in Frattaminore, on the edge of the city. The church adjoins a l’Arche community that is home to people with disabilities. I was invited to preach and to give the benediction. After the service everyone was very friendly and keen to have their photo taken with a visiting bishop.

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In the evening, we had another memorable ride to the Sant’Egidio community’s church in the centre of the city. Tea and cakes had been prepared for the English guests. How lovely! We were particularly taken by the nativity scene, which featured the holy family in one part of the scene, and a Christmas dinner for poor people in another (Sant’Egidio feeds 500 people each Christmas in one of the bigger Neapolitan churches.) After our service of evening prayer, members of the community entertained us to dinner. Their priest shared some issues familiar to all Christian churches: how to involve more members in the ministry? How to reach young people?

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The following morning, we had an audience with the Archbishop of Milan. It was fixed up rather hurriedly, by Marco, one of whose friends is the Archbishop’s secretary. It seemed to me there could be few more challenging episcopal roles than this one. Naples is a vast ecclesiastical heritage site with immense social issues. One of Cardinal Sepe’s first actions had been to invite the young people of Naples to hand over their knives anonymously in church.

Our schedule allowed a visit to the Cathedral, and in particular the opportunity to see the baptistery, which goes back to the second century and is reckoned to be the oldest baptistery in the Western Church. It is, of course, a pool intended for the total immersion of adults, because most baptism candidates in those days were adult. Probably a good number of those candidates suffered greatly for their allegiance to Christ.

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A taxi ride across town gave us time to spend the afternoon and evening with Jon and Carole Backhouse at the Anglican church. Having ascended the Central Funicular with them, we enjoyed some remarkable views over Naples to the snow-capped Vesuvius.

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My addresses and messages covered some themes that are common to Christians in many parts of Europe: a growing fear of the other which is leading to an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, and the various challenges associated with refugees and migration. It was a great personal pleasure to be with Sant’Egidio for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as they are doing so much in their community life to address these contemporary issues.

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Marco, Milana, Cardinal Sepe, Bishop Robert, Helen