This gesture of faith and prayer and friendship has been the brainchild of Fr Robert McCulloch, the Australian-born Procurator-General of the Missionary Society of St Columban. It was he who first suggested the idea around the table at a dinner at the Anglican Centre in July and it has been he who has worked quietly and methodically since then to make this happen. It wouldn't be right for the day to pass without him explaining his thoughts and hopes as we travel to Canterbury:
On July 7 last year, I was deeply moved at the occasion of the celebration of mass at the High Altar at Canterbury Cathedral by Cardinal George Pell. This was at the invitation of both Archbishop Welby and Dean Robert WIllis. I believe that this was the first mass to be celebrated at the High Altar by a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church since the time of Cardinal Pole, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Mary Tudor, and who is, interestingly, buried in the Apse Chapel of the Cathedral.
I grew up in an Australian family where ecumenism, though not a word spoken at the time, was an important issue for both my parents, as we travelled around the State of Victoria, from town to town, meeting new friends of various Christian churches. I think this was atypical for pre-Vatican II Australian Catholic families and amongst the many gifts I received from my parents, this was certainly a very important one, which has influenced my life and ministry as a Catholic priest.
From 1978 till 2011, I worked as a Columban missionary in Pakistan. I have always been concerned in Pakistan by the hostility of many Christians of different churches to one-another. This issue is not so much a need to show a united face towards Muslims as to mutually support one-another in professing our faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and living that faith fruitfully in our daily lives.
As I write this, I have the relic of Pope St Gregory beside me. The witness of faith and evangelization that Gregory was is important to me as a Catholic priest and a missionary. What I would hope will emerge by having this symbolic presence of Gregory present during this most important meeting of the Anglican Primates is that the light of faith and commitment to evangelization will be uppermost in the minds and hearts and spirits of all present.
During the Synod on the Family, Anglican Bishop Tim Thornton of Truro asked for the prayers of the Roman Catholic Church for the Anglican Church. Ultimately this is why I am delighted to be involved in bringing this staff of St Gregory to Canterbury.
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