Visiting St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral Malta

I visited Malta last year when I was leading a church delegation to meet Prime Minister Muscat and his colleagues as Malta took up the EU Council Presidency. But I had not been to St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral since I was installed there nearly four years ago. So this was a visit to which I was eagerly looking forward. And on this occasion, I was accompanied by Canon Paul Vrolijk from Brussels, with the intention of building relations between our two Pro-Cathedrals in Brussels and Malta.

A Valletta icon

Our diocese operates between two poles. One pole is networked, mobile, transitional. But our three cathedrals represent the other pole: rooted, stable, incarnational. St. Paul’s is an impressive Grade 1 listed building, its spire the tallest in Malta and a vital part of the Valletta skyline. It is a most tangible reminder of the rootedness of our diocese in the continent we serve.

The Cathedral’s yellow sandstone is gorgeous. But: oh my goodness – that roof doesn’t look in good condition at all! Indeed, the regular falling of sand or worse makes Fr. Simon Godfrey’s (the Pro-Cathedral’s Chancellor) path to his front door a hazardous walk.

The need for urgent work on the building means St. Paul’s is therefore engaged in a 3 million euro restoration project. This is a huge endeavour under the joint chairmanship of Sir Martin Laing and Mr. Martin Scicluna and involving some 40 people in various committees. They have done exceptionally well to secure a major EU funding bid with a second even larger bid in the offing.

The undercroft has already been transformed. It houses a professionally run café and a small shop, with a large screen video running to explain the life and work of the Pro-Cathedral. There are further exciting plans to develop the Pro-Cathedral as a major tourist attraction.

Rather unusually for our diocese, the Anglican Church in Malta is the proud owner of one or two items of treasure, including a gorgeous silver crozier. I was pleased to leave it in Malta in safekeeping rather than entrust it to the various airline baggage handlers that a mobile bishop has to use.

(L to R) Canon Paul Vrolijk, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Bishop Robert Innes, Canon Simon Godfrey

Whilst in Valletta, we called upon Archbishop Charles Scicluna. It was a real delight to see Archbishop Charles again. In addition to looking after the Catholic church in Malta, he also leads on investigating child abuse cases within the Church. This coming week, that aspect of his work takes him to Chile. Archbishop Charles could hardly be more welcoming to Anglicans in Malta and is also one of the angels of light in some dark aspects of church life. I encourage members of the Diocese in Europe to pray for him in his work.

Canon Paul Vrolijk and I were superbly hosted and entertained by Fr. Simon Godfrey during our stay in Malta. In an earlier life, Simon was a naval officer. He was, he told us, one of the last graduates of Dartmouth to be trained in how to board a ship armed with a sword. Here he brandishes a marvellous ceremonial sword – a sign of the church militant perhaps?

St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral is engaged in much the biggest building project in our diocese. Simon has assembled a team of impressive seniority and skill to help the Pro-Cathedral. Many of them are Roman Catholics. Animating a venture on this scale requires particular skills and charisma. May God bless Simon and his colleagues in Malta richly as they seek to sustain and develop the heritage of St. Paul’s for the benefit of this and future generations.


Official Visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Serbia

Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, visited Lambeth Palace in October 2016. In June 2018, Archbishop Justin Welby visited Serbia by way of a return visit, and I was pleased to be part of his entourage. The visit was intended to enable the Archbishop to meet with the Patriarch, to meet other religious leaders in Serbia and to attend one day of the Conference of European Churches meeting in Novi Sad.

We were given an official reception by the Orthodox Church at the airport on arrival. In the picture, along with our Orthodox hosts and myself, are: Bishop Jonathan Goodall (Archbishop’s representative with Orthodox Churches); Ambassador Denis Keefe, Archbishop Justin, The Revd. Robin Fox (Apokrisarios and Anglican Chaplain in Belgrade) and The Revd. Dr. Will Adam (Archbishop’s international ecumenical secretary).

After a private meeting with the Ambassador, we headed into Belgrade for a short tour of the majestic Temple and Crypt of St Sava’s Cathedral. Still under construction, the Temple is the nation’s religious centre and a huge source of Serbian pride.

The dome of the Cathedral is 40 metres in diameter and weighs 4,000 tonnes. 16 cranes were needed to raise it into position.

The Crypt of St. Sava’s is a place of remembrance of the saints and martyrs of Serbian history. Panels close to the entrance depict martyrs killed in the Second World War by Croatian Nazis. The horrors of 20th century conflicts are never far away in Serbia.

After a formal meeting with the Patriarch, we were hosted to dinner with traditional Serbian fare. We were entertained with a hauntingly beautiful folk song that was a kind of Serbian equivalent to ‘No, John, No, John, No’, but with the maiden in question resisting the advances of a Muslim suitor who required only that she renounce her Orthodox faith in order to be his bride.

On the Sunday, we drove north to Novi Sad to attend the Conference of European Churches’ Assembly. The Archbishop presided at the Anglican stream of worship. He gave a speech to the whole assembly in the afternoon (above). The whole assembly was then taken in coaches to the Danube river. In its attack on Serbia in 1999, NATO destroyed all the Danube bridges in Novi Sad. Hence CEC took as the symbol of its conference a cross atop a bridge. We gathered along the River in remembrance and to plant some trees as symbols of peace.

Guli Dehqani, the Anglican Bishop of Loughborough, is an Iranian refugee. She was elected Vice-President of CEC at this Assembly. She hopes to make migration one of her priority areas. I’m thrilled to have a woman bishop of Iranian background working on ecumenical matters in Europe.

Monday was devoted to ecumenical and inter-faith meetings.

Archbishop Stanislav Hocevar told us about the position of Roman Catholics in Serbia (a minority presence of course) and his desire to work for Christian Unity.

We were pleased to be taken to this beautiful medieval mosque, and to hear the perspective of Muslims living in Serbia.

The Orthodox Patriarchate contains, we were told, 365 rooms – one for each day of the year! Amongst the various paintings, our party was particular taken with this one. It shows an Albanian Muslim woman peacefully and respectfully riding past the Orthodox monastery of Pec, in what is today the region of Kosovo. The loss of Kosovo is felt deeply by the Patriarchate and was the question to which conversation often returned. The Archbishop frequently spoke of his hopes and prayers for justice for all in Kosovo, Orthodox and Muslim.

This was the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury had visited Serbia for 34 years. I had a sense of significant deepening and strengthening of relationships between the Serbian Orthodox and Anglican communities, with some practical ideas of how these relationships could be further carried forward.

The CEC conference was centred upon ‘building bridges’. I pray that any Anglican involvement and influence in this part of central Europe will aid in building bridges between people, sustaining peace and promoting justice for everyone.

Mothers Praying across Europe

Lamentations 2:19

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at every street corner.

I recently came across a ministry for praying mothers called Moms in Prayer International. Thousands of mothers across Europe meet in small groups to pray specifically for their children and school for one hour each week during term time.

Praying mothers growing in faith and discipleship can positively impact schools, families and society.

The mothers are taught through online resources, through trained ‘contact persons’ and the offer of simple Skype training. The vision is that every school would be prayed for. Not only our children need prayer, so do the teachers and staff, many are stressed and very glad to know they, too, are regularly supported in prayer.

Mothers often meet in their homes on the same day and time each week, those in salaried work may meet to pray with another mum over one lunchtime a week, others meet one hour before their weekly bible study group. Key is making it happen.

Moms in Prayer is interdenominational and so the exciting thing is that this means that many mothers across Europe are connecting from different churches to pray for their children.

This is the story from one of our Archdeaconry reps in the diocese:

The Swiss branch of Moms in Prayer International celebrates 25 years this year; they have over 1400 groups in Switzerland.

One of the big concerns in the Church of England at the moment is our failure to pass on our Christian faith to our children, and the haemorrhaging of young people from our churches. So I was particularly pleased to hear about this fellowship of praying mothers in Switzerland and would love to see groups established in other archdeaconries too.