ROME (CNS) — Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said his private conversation with Pope Francis was “very personal,” with the new leaders of the Catholic Church and of the Anglican Communion discussing how their positions have influenced their prayer lives.
The new spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion traveled to Rome June 14 for his first meeting with the new pope; they both were installed in March.
In addition to delivering speeches and praying together, the two spent more than 30 minutes speaking privately and later had lunch together in the pope’s residence.
Speaking to reporters later, Archbishop Welby said he was returning to England with an impression of Pope Francis as a pope with “an extraordinary humanity on fire with the spirit of Christ.”
“We discussed a whole range of issues,” the archbishop told reporters during a briefing at Rome’s Venerable English College, a Catholic seminary. “But most of the conversation one-to-one was really about spirituality and prayer and how we conduct ourselves before God” in their new jobs.
Asked for more details about how Pope Francis’ personal style was reflected in the conversation, Archbishop Welby joked, “We naturally discussed the color of cassocks” — the archbishop’s is violet while the pope’s is white.
“No, it was at the level of spirituality, of relationship to God, and the sense there is of relying on the mercy and call of God each day,” he said. “The conversation was about how you feel when you get up in the morning and you’ve got these extraordinary days, and where do you go in prayer.”
With many commentators remarking on the installation of the two Christian leaders just three days apart, on their pastoral approach and on their bold statements about the need for solidarity with the poor, Archbishop Welby said many people believe the Holy Spirit is challenging the Christian community “to demonstrate the radicality of the Gospel.”
“I hope that by working together we might demonstrate the transformation that Jesus Christ brings,” he said.
Archbishop Welby said Pope Francis commented on the fact that the archbishop still uses the Tube, London’s subway system. Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who joined the two for lunch, said the pope also remarked how he was “no longer able” to use public transportation.
“In terms of values and principles,” Archbishop Welby said, “there was a real sense of commitment to working together, to walking together in every way possible,” particularly with regard to issues of justice and peace, including the ongoing conflict in Syria and the plague of human trafficking.
In his formal speech to the archbishop, Pope Francis had words of appreciation for Archbishop Welby’s critical comments about a British parliamentary bill to legalize gay marriage. Asked for further comment, Archbishop Welby said, “We’re absolutely one on the issue, and equally at one in our condemnation of homophobic behavior and our sense that the essential dignity of the human being is where you start,” he said. “The moment you start treating people as a category rather than as human beings with this essential dignity, you begin to lose the plot.”
Archbishop Welby told reporters that during their private talk, he and the pope did not discuss the ordinariates Pope Benedict XVI established in 2009 for former Anglicans and made only a “passing” mention of the ordination of women as an area where Catholics and Anglicans disagree.
Archbishop Nichols said, however, the lunchtime conversation included the horror of human trafficking, particularly of women and children, and the role of church women in reaching out to and providing a safe harbor for victims. Pope Francis said he hoped Catholics and Anglicans would work together to fight trafficking and suggested they could write a joint statement about that kind of exploitation of human beings, Archbishop Nichols said.