VATICAN CITY, 14 JUNE: Pope Francis received the head of the Anglican Church, Justin Welby, for the first time today, praising him for his stance against gay marriage and calling for united action to defend the poor.
Francis urged Welby to continue proclaiming “the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently”.
Former oil executive Welby, who was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury in March just weeks after Francis was elected pope, earlier this month tore into the British government’s Gay Marriage Bill.
Accompanied by his wife Caroline, Welby prayed with the pope and around 100 representatives of the two Churches, including disaffected Anglicans who have joined the Catholic Church’s ranks.
The pair prayed for the victims of “civil conflicts, particularly in the Middle East.”
Welby said he “felt at home” at the Vatican, and hoped that “the closeness of the two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the Church” ~ an apparent reference to the leaders’ common desire to tackle secularism by going out into the streets and meeting the people.
Both Welby and Francis spoke of the importance of reaching out to the world’s disadvantaged.
The Argentine pope called on Welby to help give “a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers”.
Francis has refused to move into the papal palace, preferring to reside in a modest Vatican hotel, and has made a campaign against the culture of money one of the keystones of his papacy.
The spiritual head of the world’s 80 million Anglicans is known for taking the bus and has reportedly turned up to media interviews in clothes from charity shop Oxfam and shoes with holes in them.
The 57-year-old said: “We must love above all those tossed aside, even whole nations, by the present crisis around the world. If we are not the advocates in the name of Christ, who will be?”
The Anglican Communion split from Catholicism in the 16th century, when Pope Clement VII refused to grant King Henry VIII a divorce, but efforts have been made to reconcile the two churches.