Bishop Mike Royal and Doral Hayes had the privilege to represent Churches Together in England in Rome and to be part of two special events that took place on 30 September 2023. These events were the ecumenical prayer vigil in St Peter’s Square called by Pope Francis as part of Together: A Gathering of God’s People on the eve of the Synod, and the opening of an exhibition to mark 50 years of the John Moorman Library at the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Bishop Mike Royal’s reflections
When Pope Francis encouraged people from all over the globe to join together for the unity gathering in St Peter’s Square, my heart was stirred.
The day began with an ecumenical prayer from the rooftop terrace of our hotel with one of the many church spires in Rome as a backdrop. We then had the privilege of visiting The Anglican Centre in Rome for the opening of their new exhibition. Archbishop Ian Ernest who leads the Anglican Centre has created a wonderful place of not only learning but also of welcome and worship, in the heart of this ecclesiastical city.
From there we headed to St Peter’s Square for the late afternoon service. As we joined the crowds waiting to enter St Peter’s Square, the spontaneity of the singing and playing of guitars chimed with me, reminding me of my own Pentecostal roots. Perhaps this is what it felt like to sing the Psalms of Ascent way back in the time of King David?
The service itself was deeply moving. It was truly ecumenical with Catholic, Anglican, Free Church, Orthodox and Evangelical all offering prayers. The choirs and musical renditions came from all over the globe, from Africa, Asia and South America.
I left with a sense that the church is better when we stand together as one, taking seriously the words of Jesus, “that they all might be one and I and the Father are one”.
Doral Hayes’ reflections
Rome in September, a beautiful city in glorious sunshine.
The Anglican Centre is found within the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, which is just as beautiful as it sounds. We were warmly welcomed by the staff and trustees at the Centre, as well as Church of England National Ecumenical Officer Rev. Dr Jeremy Morris. It was both surprising and also encouraging to hear stories of Churches Together in Rome and the diversity of churches involved. Although grand in appearance, the Centre had an almost local church atmosphere, a spiritual family with a real sense of community, a weekly eucharist service and shared lunch with regular and committed attendance.
The exhibition to celebrate 50 years of the Moorman Library was made up of a mixture of some of the library’s most treasured materials and some newly created works of art by an international group of artists. Perhaps not surprisingly, the art that had the most impact on me were two pieces reflecting on unity, and the progress that has been made between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church over the last fifty years. Artist Kamla Ernest’s illustration entitled “Called to be One”, alongside Rebecca Cottrell’s ceramic “that they may all be one”, were particularly affecting both in their beauty and simplicity.
From here we moved across the city to the Vatican and joined what felt like an ever-growing queue to get through the airport like security to reach St Peter’s Square. A young man with a guitar started to sing “Oh Happy Day” and within seconds the song had spread through the queue as we all sang together in a song of praise. We chatted with a priest from Germany about the Synod, life in Rome and the upcoming prayer vigil.
The vigil itself lasted over two hours and there were around four thousand people present. There were songs, readings and stories from young people in Spanish, Italian and English. A dramatisation of the story of the Good Samaritan and a beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s famous song Alleluia, sung by the children’s choir from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Rome. The children sang in their native language and the whole square joined with them to sing Alleluia, it was very moving.
The service of prayer brought the vigil to a close, it was led by Pope Francis who spoke on the importance of being silent and listening, both to each other and to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It was a truly international and ecumenical event with intercessions and readings led by Christian leaders including:
- Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
- Rev Dr Anne Burghardt, Lutheran World Federation
- Mar Paulus Benjamin, Oriental Assyrian Church
- Patriach Mor Ignatius, Aphrem II of Antioch
- Rev Dr Elijah Brown, World Baptist Alliance
- Archbishop Bernd Wallett, Union of Utrecht
- Rev Gebrestadik Debeb, Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Italy
- Rev Dr Billy Watson, World Pentecostal Fellowship
- Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Armenian Apostolic Church
- Rev Father Thaoufilos El-Soryan, Coptic Orthodox Church
- Rev Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, World Evangelical Alliance
- Rev Dr Marco Fornerone, Waldensian Table
- Bishop Andrej, Serbian Orthodox Church
- Rev Dr Jong Chun Park, World Methodist Council
- Rev Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, World Council of Churches
- Metropolitan Mar Barnabas, Syrian Orthodox Malankara Church
- Metropolitan Gennadios, Patriarch of Alexandria
- Bishop Siluan, Romanian Orthodox Church
And the Lord’s Prayer led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Following the service, as music played, we walked slowly away from the square commenting on the deep sense of peace that the vigil had inspired.
The grandeur of Rome is disquieting at times, it is a place full is history, both good and bad and yet it is a place steeped in prayer. It is this sense of peace and prayer that has stayed with me as I reflect on the breadth of the churches that were included in this global event. It left me asking who was at the table and who had not been invited, and also how I can become less blinkered to the broader global picture as I focus on my own role within English ecumenism. At the current time, as we work and worship together, the world becomes increasingly smaller and so our shared journey towards greater unity is even more important.
Main picture photo credit: © Synod_va