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Archbishop McDowell reflects on meeting Pope Francis

Archbishop McDowell reflects on meeting Pope Francis

Writing in today’s Irish News (5th June 2024), Archbishop John McDowell comments on his recent meeting with Pope Francis and recalls how the richness of good cross–community relationships makes society more whole:

The meeting between the primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion and Pope Francis which took place on May 2 has been described as a significant event in the life of the Communion.

While continuing to acknowledge our many differences, the warmth of the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church has deepened in every way and the meeting with Pope Francis was another example of the strengthening of that relationship.

A theological commission involving Anglicans and Roman Catholics has been in more or less continuous session since the 1970s and has produced regular reports which have been considered by the faithful in both traditions. All across the world parishes meet in groups and ecumenical fellowships to study and to worship together.

The same is true of Anglican and Catholic bishops. Here in Ireland we meet semi–formally each autumn to discuss matters of common concern.

At national level the friendship and fellowship in the gospel which I enjoy with Archbishop Eamon Martin has been a tremendous encouragement to me. I know too, for instance, from his own comments to Pope Francis, that my friend Azad Marshall, the senior Anglican bishop in Pakistan, derives great heart from his cooperation with his Catholic counterpart in a country where Christians of every tradition face the daily challenges of a persecuted minority.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever manage to find anything like complete convergence on the details of The Faith, although by careful listening we can at least ensure that we don’t misunderstand or misrepresent each other.

However, we can work towards a deepening relationship in terms of faith, hope and love. Faith in the sense of standing outside the shelter of our own limitations and depending solely on the Lord of the Church with all the trust and expectancy of the earliest disciples. Hope, not in the sense of a false optimism that all is well, but in the conviction that the Lord of History is drawing us closer together in the building of the Kingdom to look just a little bit more like a new heaven and a new earth. And the deepening of our bonds of love and affection – actively caring for one another in a world where the challenges of the day are so vast and so complicated that no–one can carry this moment alone.

However, speaking personally for a moment, the meeting with Pope Francis went deeper for me than even these great things.

Our attitudes and character are formed much more by early impressions and relationships than they are by almost everything else in later years.

My early years were marked by close friendships with Catholic neighbours and I can assure you that as children and adolescents we weren’t talking about the Petrine Primacy or the doctrine of the Real Presence. The wax of our personalities was still soft and the impression went very deep – the impression of warmth and affection and of great fun and of love.

We shared our dreams and lived a common reality which the investment in division which has marked the ordinary experience of Northern Ireland has no power to erase. Much friendship; much laughter; great happiness.

Meeting Pope Francis was a great and a moving event. In part because of the personal warmth and geniality that he radiates, only half obscuring a profound mind and an iron will. But also because it was simply a continuation of all those years of happy meetings and happy memories which I have experienced since my childhood and which, I believe, every child has a right to have on offer and to enjoy.

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