Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

by Rev’d Ruth Frampton

They used to say that throwing a coin into the Trevi fountain would guarantee your return to Rome. Save your money! The fountain was drained and covered with scaffolding on my last visit and yet here I am back again at the Lay Centre for the month of January.

I came for six weeks in 2014 as part of my pre-ordination training, and returned again briefly after ordination in 2015 and 2016. But now I rejoice in a more substantial stay during January as an Anglican priest in the Church of England, to collaborate in ecumenical worship during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Rome is a huge contrast to my parish in England: I serve in Salcombe, a seaside town on the south west coast surrounded by agricultural countryside; a place for fishing and sea sports – yachts and sailing. It has a small resident population which welcomes thousands of tourists and holidaymakers. Here in Rome I can better appreciate the problems of urban living; I am volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity near S Gregorio.

Almost as soon as I arrived I was able to participate in ecumenical activity in the city and was privileged to sit in on three papers presented at a conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame: ‘The Whole is Greater than its Parts: Christian Unity and interreligious encounter today’. This was only one of the myriad of events and services held at this time to explore and celebrate ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. The importance attached here to ecumenical dialogue puts to shame many of our churches at home; we need to discover again that sense of urgency to implement Jesus’s desire ut unum sint.

The event organised by the Centro Pro Unione and the Lay Centre on the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was well-attended and Msgr. Paul McPartlan’s lecture gave us a clear insight into the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. There followed an ecumenical act of worship led by the Rev’d Canon Tony Currer in which I was privileged to give a short homily. Conversation continued over refreshments; hospitality is one of the foundations of our faith.

Among the events I have enjoyed most have been the tour of the Ecumenical Garden at S Gregorio by the Rev’d Dana English, who led an interdenominational group around the site – the garden is the only physical tribute to ecumenical dialogue in the city; the Sunday Eucharist at Caravita, another centre of ecumenical worship in Rome, where the celebrant and I exchanged blessings of grace at Communion; the ecumenical service organised by Churches Together in Rome where I was honoured to be asked to robe and join my Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican colleagues to represent the Church of England, as we celebrated the power of God’s right hand to bring about Christian Unity; and the Papal Vespers at S Paolo fuori le Mura, a fitting end to this week of concentrated prayer.

But the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity does not mean that ecumenical dialogue is put back in its box until next year! The Lay Centre is a hub for meetings and dialogue between any number of ecumenical visitors and liaises closely with the Anglican Centre in Rome where I have been supported and refreshed by weekly Holy Communion on Tuesdays. In addition to hosting visiting professors and academics who meet the students here, the Lay Centre organises educational courses for groups from all over the world. I have been privileged to meet a group of young students, from St Mary’s Catholic University outside San Francisco, who are “Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians.” I have been an occasional helper on their programme of lectures and visits, including a trip to S Maria sopra Minerva to learn about S Caterina, and a tour of the Vatican Museums, and accompanying them to the Papal Vespers at S Paolo. Later this year the Lay Centre will welcome a group of Muslims from Cambridge, England, who are coming to Rome to learn about Catholic spirituality.

At the same time the Lay Centre students have come to the end of the semester and are now in the thick of exams; an atmosphere of purposeful concentration pervades the building. Even so, they make time to show hospitality to visitors and contribute to the ecumenical effort. I have helped a team of residents put together a programme for night prayer: Compline is in a different worship tradition each evening, embracing Orthodox, Presbyterian and Anglican as well as Catholic forms of night prayer.

It has been an eventful ten days so far. I hit the ground running and it’s turned into something of a marathon – literally! My iPhone shows that over the last twelve days I have walked an average of 7km a day – in rain, in sunshine and usually in conversation!

And throughout all these, to me remarkable, events, the work of the Missionaries of Charity continues, day in, day out, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing a roof for the homeless and restoring dignity to the marginalised. They are a figure of Christ in this city.

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