The Anglican Centre in Rome – A Q&A with Bishop Michael Burrows
The Rt Revd Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory and Chair of the Church of Ireland’s Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, has been involved with the Anglican Centre in Rome for many years and is now the Chair of its International Board. Here, he explains some of the work of the Centre and the significant role the Church of Ireland plays in it.
What is the Anglican Centre in Rome?
The best analogy is that of an embassy. The Centre is a unique institution where, at the heart of the Eternal City, the Anglican Communion is physically represented in a manner that promotes hospitality, ecumenical dialogue and study, friendship and networking. While it a place where the whole Anglican Communion can feel represented, its Director (currently the former Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest) is also the personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See. He is assisted by a modest administrative staff.
How did you become associated with the ACR?
For many generations, Ireland has been a microcosm of the issues – and the progress – involved in Anglican / Roman Catholic dialogue, especially since Vatican 2. My interest in those issues and my fascination with the history and art of Rome itself brought me on visits to the Centre early in my ministry and over time I became involved in its governance. I now chair an International Board of 12 members, drawn from Ireland, Britain, the US, Hong Kong, South Africa and Australia. Of late we have done all our business by Zoom; normally we would meet in person in Rome for a residential meeting at least annually.
Where exactly is the ACR located?
The Centre is in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a stone’s throw from the famous Victor Emmanuel monument (the ‘wedding cake’) and a pleasant walk from the Vatican City. It occupies truly wonderful rooms on an upper floor of the Palazzo, which lower down contains one of the finest art galleries in the city. Our rooms and the Director’s Apartment are made available to the Governors on most generous terms by the Doria Pamphilj family, one of the patrician families of Rome. The family were enthused by the spirit of Vatican 2 and wanted to do something practical to assist Roman Catholics to deepen their relationships with their sister church, ie the Anglican Communion. The Centre is enriched by a fine chapel, and the largest library of books on Anglican history and theology to be found on the European mainland.
Is it all about theology?
Obviously much of the study and networking which which the Centre is concerned is theological in nature. But there is much practical outworking to this; our ecumenical ‘walking together’ gives Anglicanism an opportunity to share and even shape initiatives taken by the Vatican in relation to global peace and justice. Programmes to combat human trafficking, to assist reconciliation in South Sudan and to raise international awareness of the effects of climate change on the island states of the global South are examples of recent initiatives. We had a splendid level of Irish input to a recent international webinar which considered the varying experiences and insights of inter–church families in different countries where Anglicans and Roman Catholics live as close neighbours.
So do you need money?
Despite the generosity of the Doria Pamphilj family, and the regular support of a range of Anglican provinces, maintaining a full–time presence of this sort in a city like Rome involves significant cost. We do our best to break even, but Covid hit us hard. People could not travel to Rome, money was short in many provinces, we could not welcome pilgrims or run in–person study programmes, our modest onsite visitor accommodation could not produce income. So we have launched an Urgent Appeal to steady the ship, over and above the annual contributions which in my own context I seek from every Church of Ireland bishop (and many of our dioceses faithfully send us something each year). So, if you feel moved to contribute, and ‘get’ the vision and hope involved in what we do, or you can identify a potential donor with passion for ecumenism, please get in touch with me. Every prayer, every gift, every visit, every good idea boosts our work. and of course, our website will tell you far more than I can here about that work, our Appeal and our courses: anglicancentreinrome.org
Can you sum up why you feel passionate about the Anglican Centre, when there are so many other worthy causes in need of funding?
It boils down to this:
- Ireland ‘punches above its weight’ when it comes to involvement in international dialogue with Roman Catholics ; we have much experience to contribute. Wider Anglicanism needs our insights, and we need to share with others the pursuit of that Unity which is Christ’s gift and his will. From the ACR I have learned so much about what we can fruitfully do together, always realising that we need others in order to be whole ourselves.
- Not just in matters of theology, but in many matters of thought, affairs and politics, Rome (and frankly the Vatican) are where key international conversations take place. This has been the case for centuries and even modern technology has not altered the truth of this. We need to be where those conversations are happening and to contribute to them.
- Many of us these days have become aware anew of the spiritual value of pilgrimage. Few destinations can surpass Rome, as one experiences the place of Peter and Paul, strives to put the Letter to the Romans in context, seeks to understand the setting and culture in which Early Christianity courageously transformed the known world, and contemplates the artistic response to the human experience of God which seems to texture the city at every corner. For Anglicans striving to do all these things, the ACR is a home from home. And, very importantly, our Roman Catholic companions on the Way want and need us to be there.
Have you a special story to tell about your involvement with the ACR?
My youngest son James collects football jerseys from every country he has visited – did you know there was a Vatican team and jersey? Anyway James obtained one of these and was determined that I should get Pope Francis to bless it. I brought it nervously in my cassock pocket to the private audience I attended when the new ACR Director was presented in 2019. Cautiously, with the help of a Curial archbishop, I asked the Pope to bless the jersey. He took it in his hands, posed for a photo, and gave me the most wonderful thumbs–up which to me encapsulated the warmth of the man that is Pope Francis.
This article was first published in the Church of Ireland Gazette.