Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope - more prayers for unity


Just a short walk from the Colloseum is The Celio, or Caelian Hill, one of the famous seven hills of Rome, on which is the monastery of San Gregorio al Celio. Originally this was the family villa suburbana of Pope Gregory I, who converted it into a monastery between 575 and 580. He was elected Pope in 590, and we know him as Gregory “the Great.”  


Saint Augustine of Canterbury was prior of this monastery before being chosen by Pope Gregory to lead the evangelistic mission to the Anglo-Saxons seven years later. It is no wonder that Anglicans and other English speaking Christians want to visit San Gregorio when in Rome! 

How appropriate that this coming Saturday afternoon, 10th March, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Vespers together in the monastery church, and erect there a stone Celtic cross brought from Canterbury. Given that, in the words of Pope John Paull II, the journey to Christian unity is long and arduous, it is encouraging for both Anglicans and Roman Catholics to see our leaders set the example of prayer and friendship. In spite of the obstacles about which we speak so often, according to the AFP news report, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, head of the Vatican Press Office said the prayers, as well as two joint performances by the choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Vatican later this month, were "a sign of moving together along the same path." 

The monastery of San Gregorio al Celio is part of the Camaldolesi Benedictine congregation, named after Camaldoli, in the northern Italian province of Arezzo, where between 1024 and 1025 St Romualdo founded a hermitage and monastery, bringing forth a new synthesis of monastic life in the tradition of the Rule of St Benedict combined with elements of the monastic tradition of eastern Christianity. 

Cherishing the ancient bond that for 1500 years has united San Gregorio al Celio and the Christianity of England, the monastery continues as a reference point for the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. 

I visited the monastery of San Gregorio al Celio last year while doing some studies in Rome. Of interest to Australian Anglicans will be the fact that this is the community to which Peter Hughes (former Rector of St James King Street, Sydney) belongs. Below is a photograph of the two of us in the ancient monastic library.




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