Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and head of the Catholic Church Pope Benedict XVI will come together in prayer this coming Saturday in a symbolic gesture of solidarity and unity after years of tension over Anglicans shifting to the Roman Catholic Church.
Tensions between the Anglican and Catholic churches were heightened in 2009 when the Vatican launched a controversial program to allow disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.
The churches have divergent perspectives with regard to the ordination of women, homosexual bishops, and same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church has maintained a traditionalist stance on gender and homosexuality. Meanwhile, homosexual and female priests have been ordained in the Anglican Communion, which has been undergoing intense internal debate on those issues, leaving some of the church's 77 million members worldwide distressed.
With discontent Anglicans requesting to join the Catholic Church, the Vatican launched a structure of an "ordinariate" to allow priests and Anglican followers to enter into full communion. The structures, which have allowed former Anglicans to convert to Catholicism while maintaining some of their Anglican traditions, such as allowing married priests to remain under the pope's offer, have since been created in both the U.S. and Britain. Debate over female and homosexual ordination has been most intense in those two countries.
At the height of the controversy in 2009, the Vatican suggested that the offer was an attempt to "reach out" to their Anglican sisters and brothers, but some in the Anglican body believed that the Vatican was overstepping its bounds and "poaching."
Since 2009, the two church leaders have put their differences aside despite the tension. The pope visited Williams in 2010 and affirmed their commitment to continuing ecumenical dialogue.
They will come together again this weekend for a private meeting, and will jointly hold a public prayer for vespers, or the sunset evening prayer service. The joint prayer will take place in the Rome monastery of San Gregorio al Celio.
The choirs of the Westminster Abbey and the Vatican will also hold two joint performances later this month, which many view as a sign of burying the hatchet.
A Vatican spokesperson called the prayers and joint performances a sign "of moving together along the same path" for the two churches, according to AFP.