Since the early days of the movement towards Christian Unity, our
Diocese has witnessed the passing of many ecumenical milestones. These
have included significant events too, such as the audience of the Pope
with Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace. In 1995 the Queen
became the first Sovereign since the 16th Century to attend a Catholic
liturgy officially, when she accepted the invitation of Cardinal Hume
to Solemn Vespers in the Cathedral with Dr. George Carey, the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 1908 Father Paul Wattson SA, the founder of the Franciscan Friars of
the Atonement (while still an Anglican) with his friend the Reverend
Spencer Jones (an Anglican priest, vicar of Moreton in Marsh in
Gloucestershire) began the Church Unity Octave.
Their intention was the reunion of Christendom around the See of Peter
â€“ in other words, not a partial ecumenism of one or two denominations,
but an ecumenism of the whole of the Church. This devotion received the
approval of Pope Pius X the following year, shortly after Fr Wattson
and his community had become Roman Catholics. It was extended to the
whole Roman Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XV in 1916, very much as
part of his vision of human unity and peace at the height of the First
World War. The Octave ran from January 18th (the old Feast of the Chair
of St Peter, marking the moment he first arrived in Rome and assumed
responsibility for the Church there) to January 25th (the feast of the
Conversion of St Paul) and focussed on reconciliation with the See of
Peter. It was the direct forerunner of the modern Week of Universal Prayer.
It is often assumed that the idea of ecumenism came from the Churches
of the Reformation, especially after the famous Edinburgh Mission
Conference in 1910 to overcome divisions between denominations in the
world mission field. Indeed this led to the foundation of the World
Council of Churches in 1949.
But there is another side to this story. At significant points far back
into history, it has been Catholics who have vitally prepared and
transformed our present vision of the Churchâ€™s communion, the desire
among Christians for reconciliation and the urgency of overcoming the
failure that is our separation.