Centuries after Anglicans split from Rome so King Henry VIII could divorce, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis find themselves occupying increasingly common ground when it comes to marriage.
The pontiff received Justin Welby, leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, for the first time on Friday at the Vatican in Rome, praising his stance against gay marriage.
Francis said Welby must persist on “the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently,” Agence France-Presse reported.
England is on the verge of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.
For his part, Welby said he appreciated the warm welcome in Rome, and hoped the “closeness of the two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the Church.”
The men share much more in common despite the political and theological rift that originated in the 16th century, and most recently exacerbated by Pope Benedict XVI.
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They consider themselves reluctant leaders who are using their positions to petition for the poor.
Welby, 57, is a former oil executive who once smuggled bibles into communist Romania in the early 1980s.
Francis preached in Buenos Aires during some of Argentina’s most turbulent years.
They assumed their new positions within days of each other this March. In Rome, they prayed together for victims of Middle Eastern conflicts.
“Both have a particular interest in the economy and its effect on men and women around the world, on our responsibility to reach out to the marginalized and the poor and an interest that churches should be involved to make society a more Christ-like place,” Vatican Monsignor Mark Langham said, according to The Guardian.
Furthermore, while their faith’s differences remain obvious, Francis and Welby each made conciliatory speeches in Rome on Friday.
Anglicans and Catholics are split over allowing women priests; Anglicans are also upset that Benedict cleared a path for disaffected priests to join the Catholic Church.
Francis thanked Welby “for the sincere efforts the Church of England has made to understand” Benedict’s motivation.
Welby returned the kind words to Francis.
“It is only as the world sees Christians growing visibly in unity that it will accept through us the divine message of peace and reconciliation,” Welby said, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Welby and his wife, Caroline, are also touring other Vatican shrines.
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