I have been searching in my mind for the roots of my firm (and still - despite it all - fervent) desire for the Increase of Christian Unity. So, I have returned to my boyhood when it nearly happened - as far as the Church of England and Roman Catholics were concerned.
In 1925 (almost ten years before I was born), Pope Pius XI published ‘Equidem Verba’ - an appeal to monks and nuns of the Benedictine Order to pray for Christian Unity. As a result of that appeal, the Benedictine Order founded/funded a House for that purpose. This developed into the current community at Chevetogne in Belgium. Chevetogne's speciality (following the Russian Revolution) has been Roman/Orthodox Relations - and it is a community of two Allegiances. (Taizé, in Burgundy, was founded by Pere Reger Schutz after 1945 in the same spirit - albeit Roman/Prtotestant/Orthodox: a triple allegiance!)
Into this world steps Pere Paul Irenaeus Couturier (from Lyons) who stayed at Chevetogne in 1932; and, being inspired by the plight of refugee, Slavic Christians, the Abbé Couturier was moved by Cardinal Mercier (Primate of Belgium and Archbishop of Malines/Mechlen) to commit himself to the cause of Christian Unity from 1932. In 1934 (I being by then alive), Pere Couturier inaugurated in Lyons a Triduum for Christian Unity - which, from 1939, became the Week of Prayer for Unity - an Octave ending with the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul.
So, I have been a sort of part of it and my memories are of the discussions between Cardinal Mercier and the leading Anglican layman (our bishops were too scared in those gaitered and top-hatted days - with the notable exceptions of two who were members of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield), together with Lord Halifax - soon to be Foreign Secretary (and then in war-time, Ambassador to the USA).
The talks went nowhere – but (much later) led to the ARCIC (Anglican/RC) Conversations which were re-ignited by Archbishop Ramsey and Pope Paul VI – and which led also to the Centro Anglicano for study etc in Rome and (if I am right) were elevated from Conversations to Discussions.
‘Malines’ laid the foundations: the acceptance of ‘Petrine Leadership’ (we still baulk at Universal Jurisdiction!); Episcopacy as divinely ordained; agreement over the Real Presence in the Sacrifice of the Mass; and Communion in both ‘Kinds’
All this went over the heads of the average lay person. My parents, however (being Scots Presbies), were horrified. It was the talk of the town - regarded by many – and not just those in Lewes - as ‘Treasonable’. But, for this small boy who delighted in ‘smells and bells’, it all made sense.
Chevetogne continues its work, as does Taizé. And for us, I feel there is no doubt, that we have to be a constructive part of Jesus’s own prayer – ‘that all may be One’. We should therefore welcome the State Visit of Benedict XVI. May it bring us all healing.