By David Kerr
Catholic convert Father Peter Hughes prefers to describe himself as “an Anglican who is now in full communion with Peter.”
“In a personal sense I have made this journey, and it has been both a fascinating and a demanding one,” said Fr. Hughes, the prior of San Gregorio al Celio monastery in Rome, in an interview with CNA.
Fr. Hughes was received into the Catholic Church in 2000, after many years as an Anglican vicar in his native Australia and in England.
This weekend he will experience his life come full circle as he hosts both Pope Benedict XVI and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The two religious leaders will pray Vespers together to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the monastic Camaldolese Order, which has overseen San Gregorio since the mid 1500s.
“The thought of living one’s own ecclesial tradition in a different context and celebrating what is rich in both …is reflected in this whole celebration,” said Fr. Hughes.
He believes this weekend’s events signify the “deepest desire” of the Pope and the Anglican leader “to move towards a communion which symbolically, structurally, sacramentally, institutionally can finally reach its consummation.”
The venue of San Gregorio monastery comes with added significance for English Christians. In the late 6th century Pope Gregory the Great dispatched St. Augustine from the monastery to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, thus making them “not Angles, but Angels.” St. Gregory actually built the monastery on the site of his family home.
“This is the third time that a Pope has met with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the house of Gregory the Great,” Fr. Hughes explained.
“So, this connection with the English, this connection with Canterbury is fundamental to the celebration.”
In recent years, the search for unity has been made more difficult as many Anglican churches have liberalized their stance on moral issues, such as homosexuality.
An internal report published last year also suggested that the rate of decline among Anglican congregations is so severe that the Church of England could be “functionally extant” or effectively dead in 20 years.
But Fr. Hughes is still hopeful for Christian unity.
“We’re always searching for expressions of God’s will. I think the desire for unity is as strong as ever. I think we need to look for ways in which we can stimulate our progress,” he said.
“This weekend is a way of saying, ‘this is another step on the way,’ another way of lifting our spirits and saying this is still something to hope for and this is still something to work for concretely.”