The pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated First Vespers together to mark 50-years of dialogue and engagement with one another, in the same church from where St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent to preach in England in the 6th Century.
Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis' first action was to sign a Common Declaration, giving thanks for the theological dialogue started in 1966 with the two previous religious leaders, despite "serious obstacles.”
The two prayed side-by-side on the altar at the Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio as they sang First Vespers in their traditional religious garb.
Both reflected on the Gospel, speaking about the role of the Good Shepherd and the sheep.
"The love of the victorious Lamb over sin and death is the true innovative message by bringing together today the lost, and those who still do not have the joy of knowing the compassionate face and merciful embrace of the Good Shepherd. From there comes our shared responsibility, the unique mission to serve God and humanity.”
This service and responsibility toward humanity was also expressed in the Archbishop of Canterbury's homily, as he spoke about the Shepherd who will always search out His one lost sheep, especially the most vulnerable.
ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
"As God's family we may always be those who look out into a world that wanders like sheep without a Shepherd. Where the weak, the unborn, the elderly, the trafficked, the dying, those with disabilities, are treated not as humans, but as inconveniences. And not only do we look, but we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling and we respond, 'Here we are, send us.'”
Pope Francis asked that pastors everywhere help the people that are in their care and that they pray for the grace to follow the examples of the past missionaries who have helped revamp the Church.
"The mission of the pastors is to help the flock entrusted to them, that it be always out-going, on the move to proclaim the joy of the Gospel; not closed in tight circles, in ecclesial "microclimates" which would take us back to the days of clouds and thick darkness. Together we ask God for the grace to imitate the spirit and example of the great missionaries.”
The religious leaders finished with a firm resolve to look toward the future and to trust in the mercy of the Shepherd before singing the Our Father.
Pope Francis then gave a crosier to the Archbishop, and the Archbishop returned the favor by gifting the pope his silver cross necklace, which Pope Francis immediately put on.
The two religious leaders finished by blessing the attendees in Latin before greeting the members of the Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), who lead progress between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.