VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, will meet at the Vatican Saturday morning and then will lead evening prayer together at Rome’s Church of St. Gregory al Celio.
The ecumenical vespers service is part of the celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the Camaldolese Benedictine monastic family, which includes hermits, monks and nuns. The community has a monastery at St. Gregory, which is closely tied to the history of the evangelization of England. St. Gregory the Great chose St. Augustine of Canterbury and 30 monks from a convent at the church to go to England; they landed in 597 and are credited with laying the foundations for the renewal of English Christianity after the Anglo-Saxons drove Christians out of the southern and eastern parts of the island.
The vespers Saturday mark the third time in recent history that a pope and an Anglican archbishop of Canterbury have led a prayer service together at St. Gregory. In 1989, Pope John Paul II and Anglican Archbishop Robert Runcie celebrated there and in 1996 Pope John Paul and Anglican Archbishop George Carey did likewise.
The millennial celebration of the Camaldoli will continue Sunday with a conference on “Monastic Virtues and Ecumenical Hopes.” Archbishop Williams will speak along with Father Robert Hale, prior of the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, Calif.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the visit of the archbishop of Canterbury and the prayer service with the pope “are part of the continuing ecumenical journey” of the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Communion. It’s a sign that although there are serious differences preventing full communion, both are committed to continuing the search for unity.
And in another ecumenical gesture, the Vatican and the Anglican Westminster Abbey in London issued a joint press release today announcing that the Sistine Chapel and the Choir of Westminster Abbey will combine forces to provide the music for the pope’s celebrations of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in late June.
“This momentous ecumenical occasion is the first time in its over-500 year history that the Sistine Choir has joined forces with another choir,” the press release said. Guest choirs often sing at papal liturgies where the Sistine Choir is present, but they do not sing together.