By Luke Coppen
THE ANGLICAN Communion and the Catholic Church will issue a joint "affirmation of faith" in a bid to rekindle hopes of unity, church leaders agreed last week.
The affirmation, to be written by a new AnglicanCatholic joint commission, will formally acknowledge the "extensive common faith" which already exists between the churches.
Anglican and Catholic leaders hope it will mark a new stage in the search for unity and inspire more co-operation between the churches.
The affirmation was announced at the end of a week of talks between 35 Anglican and Catholic bishops from 13 regions of the world. The meeting, held in Canada, resulted in a 14-point statement, which called for greater unity in missionary work.
Archbishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor of Westminster, who represented England and Wales at the meeting, described the encounter as "very helpful".
He said: "It enabled us to explore in an atmosphere of prayer and dialogue the fundamental truths we hold in common, and also to discuss frankly those matters that still impede our full communion.
"The conference confirmed for me that the more Anglicans and Catholics meet together to pray and discuss matters of faith, the greater the impetus and growth in fuller communion.
"Pope John Paul continues to re-iterate that the mission to promote unity is an obligation on us all deriving directly from fidelity to Christ. For Catholics, the ecumenical road has no exit."
In their statement, released this week, the bishops said the Canada meeting had given them "a clear sense that we have moved much closer to the goal of full visible communion than we had at first dared to believe". In a communique also released this week, the bishops said the meeting had left them "more resolved to do all in their power to build upon the considerable agreement in faith they already share".
"The bishops are also convinced it is possible for Anglicans and Roman Catholics to mark a new stage in their search for unity," the statement said.
Despite "well-known difficult problems" obstructing unity — such as the ordination of women, papal primacy and Anglican Orders — they appealed for greater co-operation and shared mission.
In a longer summary of the meeting, entitled Communion and Mission, the Anglican and Catholic bishops explained that this "new stage" in ecumenical relations was "but a step on the way to full visible unity".
"Our vision of unity is of a eucharistic communion of churches: confessing one faith and demonstrating by their harmonious diversity the richness of faith.
"However," the bishops added, "the shape of full visi
ble unity is beyond our capacity to put into words."
The bishops met in Canada at the behest of Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. The pair called last year for a high-level meeting to review three decades of dialogue and to raise awareness of the achievements of the AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).
ARCIC has released documents on the Eucharist (1971), ordination (1973), papal authority (1976 and 1999), salvation and the church (1987) and church as communion (1991). A new study on the place of the Virgin Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church is now being considered.
Dr Carey, who preached during the meeting's only public liturgy at St. Michael's Cathedral, Toronto, said the week had been "heartening and hopeful".
He said: "The journey the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have taken since the Second Vatican Council has not been a journey away &urn the Christian faith but a pilgrimage together into its heart."
The Archbishop of Canterbury will join Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor on Pentecost Sunday for a special ecumenical service at the Millennium Dome.
The full text of Communion and Mission can be found on www.anglicancommunion.org