BLOG 222 October 20, 2014
Customarily, these blogs are about aspects of Middle Eastern countries and the current military struggles. I attempt to place the region in a balanced and thoughtful framework that attempts to give the reader an enlarged picture of what these struggles mean and where they are going. Certainly, there is plenty to write about. For example, the Iraqi government finally filled two security posts that had sat empty for far too long because of the religious differences in the country. We’ll save that story for another time. Today I want to take a step in a different direction. Please forgive this mission interrupted digression.
I have just returned from two weeks in Rome and time spent in private discussions with Pope Francis. As you may be aware, the Vatican was holding a landmark assembly dealing with issues facing families, divorced and remarried Catholics, as well as the gay community. During this time, the Pope met privately with me at an early morning hour to discuss bringing a new unity between Protestants and Catholics. Since I am a Protestant Archbishop, such conversations were highly irregular – and vital!
Several years ago my colleague, fellow bishop, and dear friend Tony Palmer and I were in Bari, Italy when the Roman Catholic Church signed an agreement accepting Martin Luther’s position on “Justification by Faith.” Pope Francis now maintains this concord has ended all hostilities between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Pope had become our close friend when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tony had become like a son to Fr. Bergoglio (now Pope Francis). As their relationship developed, Tony and I were shocked when the Archbishop became the Pope after Benedict resigned. Last spring, the Pope called on his cell phone and asked us to come to Rome. He particularly wanted us to carry the message of “unity without uniformity” to the Protestants world. The Pope wasn’t asking Protestants to join the Roman Church, but wanted Protestants and Romans to become friends again as well as brothers and sisters as Jesus prayed we would all be. (John 17)
On July 20, 2014, at the age of 48 Tony was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in Bath, England. Obviously, this tragedy threw our worlds into complete turmoil. Although I had retired as Director of Ecumenical Relations of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, I was called back to help formulate a Synod Tony was working on in Rome and to re-establish our connection with the Pope. During the past two weeks in Rome, I have been working on these issues.
The Pope has asked me to continue Tony’s mission and has called on his wife Emiliana Palmer to head the Ark Community’s ministry that had become the vehicle for communication of unity. The Pope’s title “Apostolic Representative for Christian Unity” bestowed on Tony has now been transferred to me and I will continue Tony’s work. Nothing about this effort will prohibit these blogs and they will continue as usual with a an added dimension.
My new primary mission is to tell the world that Protestants and Roman Catholics have a new compatibility even though many of our views differ. We strive to be one in the days that are before us.