The Anglican Centre in Rome plans to resurrect an idea that has borne rich fruit before: giving future leaders of the Anglican Communion a sense of the many influences and pressures that are reality for the church in the modern world.
"We are encouraging the primates [leaders of the worldwide communion's 38 provinces] to think of one person they might identify as a future leader. We are putting together a course for February 2010 that is about leadership in a range of contexts: Vatican leadership, the church and politics, the church and media, the church and Islam," said the Very Rev. David Richardson, center director, in an April 7 interview.
The 43-year-old center, located in a corner of the largest palace in Rome in private hands, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, officially houses the Archbishop of Canterbury's diplomatic representative to the Vatican.
It's also an ecumenical (interchurch and interfaith) meeting place, with an extensive library of works about Anglicanism and a location for educational courses. In a sense, it is the Anglican Communion's living room in the city that is headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church's 1.1 billion members. About 1,000 people visit the center each year.
The idea for a leaders' course first arose about 30 years ago, Richardson said. "About a year ago, the day after I started, the governors [of the center] said, 'We want a leaders' course.' There had been one [in the 1970s], and it had had a profound effect. Future leaders saw the importance of ecumenism, the relationship between Anglicanism and the Roman Catholic Church. One person who was on such a course was George Carey, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury."
In addition, he said, 2010 is the centennial of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, that gave rise to the modern ecumenical movement. The Anglican Center course, titled "Lead Kindly Light" and scheduled to run Feb. 15-21, "is a way of ensuring the future leadership of the communion has a real sense of ecumenical imperative," he said, noting, "Four of the main presenters will be Roman Catholics."
Presenters include Old Testament scholar and ecumenist Dame Mary Tanner, British Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Campbell, theologian Father Timothy Radcliffe OP and Vatican Radio journalist Philippa Hitchen.
Richardson said he hoped the world economic crisis would ease by the end of 2009 to allow for full participation in the course. Bursaries are available for course participants, particularly those from developing countries, he said. As noted in the center's Eastertide edition of its Centro newsletter, "The center has not been immune from the credit crisis round the world. Both the February and the June courses have been cancelled because too few were registered and had paid by the due date."
Other courses planned for 2009 include one in October on the spirituality of St. Ignatius. While the study courses are a major portion of the center's work, building relationships – primarily between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion – is Richardson's mandate.
The liberalizing reforms of Pope John XXIII's Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s led to a meeting between Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope John XXIII's successor, Pope Paul VI, in 1966. The center was founded shortly thereafter.
"When Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI inaugurated the conversation between our two churches 40 years ago … they saw that no amount of scholarly agreement was enough to bring about reconciliation," Richardson said. "What was needed in Rome was a diplomatic presence and place of study, kind of an embassy where bridges are built and friendships are formed."
Richardson is invited to certain papal events, such as a vespers service at St. Paul's Outside the Walls in January at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that attracted 4,000 attendees. He generally would not be attending services that include the Eucharist, since Roman Catholicism bars non-Catholics from taking Communion. It is one area of contention, along with such issues as female priests, priestly celibacy and teachings on homosexuality, that are discussed by ongoing bodies such as the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.
"Today, dialogue is a fundamental expression of Christianity," said Mary Reath, chair of the American Friends of the Anglican Center, in an e-mail message. "No one knows yet how to achieve Christian unity, but the center helps all Christians to understand, in a fresh way, the breadth of the Christian experience."
The Episcopal Church long has supported the center, said Bishop Christopher Epting, ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, in an e-mail message.
The center is an important part of the process of "receptive ecumenism," he said, "appropriating and living into the convergences already achieved by these two world communions even as we continue to seek ways forward in the future."
A video interview with Richardson may be viewed here.