Bishop Stephen reports on the IARCCUM ‘Growing Together’ Summit in Rome and Canterbury

In their Common Declaration issued in March 1966, the Holy Father, Paul VI, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, committed the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion to a process of dialogue and partnership which continues to this day, despite many upheavals and difficulties that have been encountered over the decades. In their Declaration, they affirmed ‘their desire that all those Christians who belong to these two Communions may be animated by… [the] sentiments of respect, esteem and fraternal love, and in order to help these develop to the full, they intend to inaugurate between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion a serious dialogue which, founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed.’

Their Common Declaration, went on to say that ‘the dialogue should include not only theological matters such as Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy, but also matters of practical difficulty felt on either side’.

The International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission, IARCCUM, is an outworking of this ongoing relationship and is a joint commission of the Anglican Communion and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. It grew out of a meeting in the year 2000 between Archbishop Carey and Cardinal Edward Cassidy which in turn led to an inaugural conference at Mississauga in Canada in 2001. A report followed, Growing Together in Unity and Mission, in 2007. Inspired by this ecumenical vision, IARCCUM has been led by its co-presidents, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Donald Bolen and the Anglican Bishop David Hamid and, guided by them, the first IARCCUM Rome-Canterbury Summit was held in 2016 during which 19 pairs of bishops were commissioned by the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury to promote growth in communion between our two churches.

The second Rome-Canterbury Summit was held in late January this year, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This time, 50 bishops from 27 regions were commissioned by Pope Francis and ArchbishopJustin Welby in St Paul’s Outside the Walls. To be asked to represent the English Church, alongside Bishop Peter Collins (on the left in the picture), the Roman Catholic Bishop of East Anglia, was a tremendous honour – but an honour that carries with it an ongoing commitment to the process of reconciliation and unity.

As well as visiting and being welcome guests in numerous churches in Rome – including St Peter’s Basilica – then Canterbury Cathedral we were able to hear and talk with a wide range of voices, not least from amongst the bishops themselves, inspiring us to continue building the good and meaningful relationships so famously prayed for in 1966. It was particularly noticeable how many of our episcopal colleagues across the world already had deep friendships and diocesan or provincial partnerships. Bishop Peter Collins and I are both relatively young in office, consecrated only two weeks apart, and are committed to our newfound friendship and responsibility. It was therefore a privilege to be invited to share with him a reading of a letter from Pope St Gregory the Great to St Augustine in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio on the day we left Rome for Canterbury.  To stand together in the same church from which Augustine had been sent by the pope to evangelise the people of Kent brought home to us both the enormity of the task we had accepted, undertaking to be ‘true pilgrim companions to one another’.

Most of the Summit, which felt at times very much like a pilgrimage, received reassuringly positive feedback. One regular comment that I became aware of was the hope that this wasn’t just a grand gesture or photo opportunity, but that real unity would grow out of it. The gathered bishops and IARCCUM team were all too aware of the obstacles that will prevent institutional unity during our lifetime – but we were also aware that we share a common baptism and common baptismal commission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Unity, we were reminded, begins at home with a determined effort to reach out across perceived barriers within our own communities. It is the task and calling of every Christian to bring Christ’s healing into our troubled world. Cardinal Stephen Chow, from Hong Kong, reminded us of this during his sermon during the Summit’s final morning in Canterbury Cathedral: ‘The twelve apostles and disciples were not called to form camps working for their own missions or competing against each other. They were called to become an assembly, a community, a communion, a synodal koinonia, praying and discerning, teaching and serving for the mission of our Triune God.’ The Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops who assembled during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity resolved ‘to bear witness to the hope of God’s love as we preach and celebrate the sacraments with God’s holy people’. And we hope to be an example and inspiration to our fellow bishops and all Christian people. To read more, including the Final Statement, visit