Bishop Peter Ramsden on accompanying the Catholic bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to Rome

In 2005 Bishop Denys Ririka, the Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Aipo Rongo, Papua New Guinea, was the first Anglican bishop to accompany an ‘ad limina’ visit to Rome by a Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Such invitations were encouraged in ‘Growing Together in Unity and Mission’, the agreed statement of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission.

International group

In June 2012 I also made this journey as a guest of the Catholic bishops of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands (SI), staying with them at the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI. We made for a very international group: six Papua New Guineans and one Solomon Islander, four Americans, four Italians, two Canadians, two Australians, one Irishman, one Filipino and one Englishman. The three parts to the visit were worship at the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul, reporting to the various Vatican dicasteries, and an audience with the Pope.

We began with a mass at St Paul’s Outside the Walls and prayers at his tomb. Working in a country where the Anglican Church is still ministering to first generation Christians in remote areas of the highlands has, for me, always added an extra excitement to reading the missionary journeys of St Paul. It was so good to be where he ended his earthly pilgrimage with other shepherds of mission.

Shared problems

The bishops visited the Vatican departments dealing with Health Work, Christian Unity, Interreligious Dialogue, Religious Orders, New Evangelization, Education, Justice and Peace, Doctrine and Sacraments, Communications and Immigrants.

There had been some discussion beforehand as to what might be appropriate for an accompanying Anglican. I was welcome to all the Pontifical Councils but did not join them when they visited the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and Evangelization of Peoples. The senior staff of each department, usually headed by a cardinal, welcomed our party, explained something about their work, asked about the situation in PNG and SI and joined in discussion. The PNG reports were about situations familiar to me and often I thought how the Roman Catholics and Anglicans share many of the same problems as we seek to witness to Christian values in PNG.

The Anglican Centre

On one evening I was able to return some hospitality when we all visited the Anglican Centre in Rome. We were welcomed by Australians Canon David Richardson, the Director, and his wife Margie. The centre houses a large library of Anglican theological and spiritual writing, the core of which is the collection of committed ecumenist Bishop John Moorman. It was inaugurated in1966 when the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) began its work – and when I was confirmed! Canon Richardson spoke of some Anglican/Roman Catholic milestones, and the bishops were moved by the account of Pope Paul VI giving his Episcopal ring to the Archbishop of Canterbury. We prayed the evening office together in the chapel and then had a fine supper.

The highlight of the visit was an audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. PNG priests studying in Rome were presented by their bishops and I was introduced by Bishop Bill Fey opm, the bishop responsible for ecumenism in PNG. I gave the Pope a copy of our PNG Anglican Prayer Book (the ribbon marking the page for the Angelus!) with the greetings and prayers of PNG Anglicans for our unity and common witness to the Gospel.

Unfinished business

The ‘ad limina’ was a very special time for the PNG Catholic Bishops’ Conference and it was a great gesture for them to invite an Anglican again and to make me so welcome. Being with them and yet not one of them (for I attended mass each day but did not receive communion) reminded all of us of the unfinished business we have of praying and working for full visible unity. This visit showed that Papua New Guinea remains a special place for creative and generous Anglican/ Roman Catholic relations. ND