GRAYMOOR – Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s eyebrows were raised as he glanced around the room, beholding the impressive features of Our Lady of the Angels Chapel.
He marveled at the stained glass windows, the altar and the wooden pews that line each side of the sanctuary where the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity took place over 100 years ago.
“My, this is just lovely,” Archbishop Justin said in an amazed tone, his eyes trained on the glasswork depicting St. Francis of Assisi. “Just beautiful.”
Archbishop Justin’s stop at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel was the final one during his visit to Graymoor on Saturday, September 23. He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain to accept the 14th Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award, conferred by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
After the award ceremony, which took place at Our Lady of the Atonement Chapel, Archbishop Justin and his wife, Caroline, were led on a tour of the Graymoor grounds by the Friars, visiting a few of the important landmarks across the mountain.
“I hope this visit reminds people that the Church is to work as one,” said Friars’ Minister General Father Brian Terry, SA. “We can do so much together.”
The Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award is awarded only occasionally by the Friars, to ecumenists who distinguish themselves as leaders in Christian unity. Recipients of the honor are recognized by the Friars as having made significant contributions to ecumenism and Christian unity during their lives.
The award is named for Graymoor founder, Servant of God Father Paul Wattson, SA, who was a pioneer and leader in the early ecumenical movement. Father Paul and Society of the Atonement foundress Mother Lurana White, SA, were the innovators of the Church Unity Octave, now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an annual worldwide ecumenical celebration. Each year during the week of January 18-25, Christians everywhere are called to pray for unity within the faith, reflect on scripture and participate in communal services.
In that same spirit of ecumenism forged by Father Paul and Mother Lurana, the award ceremony began with a short prayer service that included the singing of “All Creatures of Our God and King,” a hymn based on a poem written by St. Francis of Assisi, and a selection of scripture readings. After Father Brian presented the award, Archbishop Justin spoke of a meeting held 57 years ago between Pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey – who received the Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award from the Friars in 1972.
That meeting spurred dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.
“It was the first meeting between the Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury since the bloody years of the Reformation, 400 years before,” Archbishop Justin said. “They had agreed, after centuries of conflict, to set up a dialogue between the two churches. And as they were leaving the Basilica of St Paul’s in Rome, the Pope drew Archbishop Ramsey aside. He gave him a ring – the same ring the Pope had worn when he was cardinal Archbishop of Milan. Archbishop Ramsey was brought to tears by this gesture of recognition and reconciliation.”
Archbishop Justin went on to further explain how, in 2019 when he visited Pope Francis at the Vatican, he wore the same ring Pope Paul VI gave Archbishop Ramsey. Earlier this year, Archbishop Justin joined with Pope Francis and The Very Reverend Iaian Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, on a mission of solidarity to South Sudan.
“I will never forget how Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the South Sudanese leaders, and implored them to make peace,” Archbishop Justin said. “Not just because it was a remarkable gesture that left everyone present deeply moved, but because it reminded how far the churches have come in such a short time in following Christ’s command in John to be one, and how our hard-fought unity had made it possible to be envoys of peace to a battle-scarred nation.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury serves as the senior Primate and chief religious head of the Church of England. Along with the title of successor to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, which accounts for 85 million people across the globe.
After spending 11 years in the oil industry, Archbishop Justin was ordained in 1992. Throughout his first 15 years, he served in Coventry diocese. He spent most of that span in places of significant deprivation. After being made Canon of Coventry Cathedral in 2002, he jointly led its international reconciliation work while concurrently working in Africa and the Middle East. This experience gave him a passion for reconciliation and peacemaking.
From 2007 to 2011, he served as Dean of Liverpool. He then went on to become Bishop of Durham from 2011 to 2012, before he was bestowed the honor of being named 105thArchbishop of Canterbury. He was installed as Archbishop in March, 2013.
During his sermon at his installation ceremony, Archbishop Justin illustrated how Christian unity is a priority in our day and age, encouraging every Christian to share their faith. He also stressed reconciliation within the Church, as well as the renewal of prayer and religious life.
“Joining you here, as you yourselves join Episcopal and Catholic traditions in your history, I see again a living embodiment of what it means to witness to our Lord’s prayer,” Archbishop Justin said. “That all his followers should be one, as he is one with the Father.”
Following his speech, Archbishop Justin attended a luncheon with Friars and guests in Graymoor’s Pius X dining room. He was then led by a small group of Friars on a tour of some of the important Graymoor landmarks, including the tomb of Father Paul. Father Paul’s tomb is graced with a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta and overlooks the Hudson River and Hudson highlands at the summit of Mount Atonement.
The Friars then took Archbishop Justin to St. Francis Chapel, where Father Brian pointed out its significant features – namely the distinctive altar and St. Francis statue. Father Paul once sent whatever he could to Assisi to help fund preservation and restoration efforts for the town.
In return, he was gifted the statue of St. Francis, its visage fashioned out of the saint’s death mask. It is only one of two that exist in the world. The statue stands proudly in St. Francis Chapel, over the altar at which St. Francis received the Holy Stigmata in the year 1224.
The visit culminated with the stop at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, where the Society of the Atonement was formally received into the Catholic Church on October 30, 1909. It was also where the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was observed in 1908.
Despite admittedly becoming a bit breath-taken by his visit, Archbishop Justin expressed gratitude for the invitation to the Holy Mountain.
“It’s quite overwhelming to be at Graymoor because of its historic significance,” Archbishop Justin said. “I think what I take away is a sense of generosity of spirit and breadth of vision that is hugely important.”