Pope Paul also met the Ecumenical Patriarch
It is being said that Pope Francis’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew is the first since the Great Schism, but this is not quite accurate. It is the first time the Ecumenical Patriarch has attended the enthronement of a Pope, but Pope Paul VI met the Patriarch when he was invited to the Vatican Council in 1965.
I know this, because I was just a few feet away from them when they exchanged the kiss of peace. Sounds improbable, since I was only 22 and an undergraduate at Oxford. But I was also studying for the Anglican priesthood, and the Bishop of Ripon, who was the leader of the Anglican delegation present during the whole Vatican Council, had asked for two seminarians to be added to the group for the final session of the Council.
So I had the enormous privilege of being in the aula nearest the High Altar of St Peter’s, Rome, where the ecumenical delegates were seated. Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras expressed sorrow for the schism and withdrew the mutual excommunications and anathemas the two Churches had then pronounced against each other. They then exchanged the kiss of peace – and we were all in tears!
The other seminarian who was with me (we stayed at the Venerable English College) was Fr Stanley Klores, who was then at St Stephen’s House in Oxford, and from the Diocese of Chicago. He later became a Roman Catholic and is now the Rector of St Patrick’s in New Orleans.
We also attended the crowning of the statue of Our Lady by the Pope (well, by a fireman on a long ladder, on behalf of the Pope!) in the Piazza near the Spanish Steps, on December 8, 1965, and heard the Pope name her “Mother of the Church”, my favourite title for Our Lady, and one we use every evening during prayers at the Shrine of Our Lady of Clemency. Every time I say it, I think back to that cool, windy day in Rome.