The leader of the world’s Anglican community has been invited to “pray for responsible leadership in politics” by the rector of Belfast’s Clonard Catholic monastery during a visit to the city.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby journeyed to the west Belfast monastery on Thursday, having apparently been in the Province since at least Wednesday.
His visit is somewhat mysterious however; he arrived without any fanfare, and details of the trip – including exactly when he arrived and when he will leave – have not been revealed by the Church of England.
Following the visit to Clonard, located in the city’s republican Falls Road heartland, the monastery’s rector father Noel Kehoe issued a statement in which said that the archbishop had been accompanied by 60 members of the Church of England as part of his “private pilgrimage” concerning “peace and reconciliation”.
Praising the “peace-building” legacy of priests Alec Reid and Gerry Reynolds, Father Kehoe said that “our welcome to you today is not a mere formality, or good etiquette – rather, it is an invitation, a prayer, that in the short time you spend with us today, we may be deeply conscious that Divine friendship makes of us friends and fellow pilgrims”.
He also said: “At the heart of our division is a question of identity. I am British, I am Irish, my culture, my tradition, my language, my flag, my tribe. But a great number of those people who would lead us to exclusive camps also identify themselves as Presbyterian, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist.
“Our churches have a great responsibility, that requires leaders to risk.”
He asked the Archbishop and the pilgrims “to pray for responsible leadership in politics and pray for courageous leadership in the churches”.
Archbishop Welby was presented with a hand painted icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Virgin Mary), and the archbishop in turn presented the community with an illustration from a 9th century Irish book of the Gospels that hangs in Lambeth Palace.
Prayers were offered for both communities, for victims of violence, for peacemakers, and for those who “we call enemies”, the statement on behalf of the monastery said.
Asked about the itinerary of the archbishop’s trip to Northern Ireland, a spokeswoman Lambeth Palace (representing the Anglican leadership) would only say that the trip was “private”, so it could not disclose any information.
It is believed that even within the Church of Ireland little had been known about the details of the visit.
However, PSNI assistant chief constable Stephen Martin posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday, showing the archbishop meeting both him and the chief constable George Hamilton.
He said that the archbishop visited the PSNI’s east Belfast-based headquarters, and had attended the RUC George Cross’ Garden of Remembrance.
The DUP, the Province’s largest political party, is not believed to have any scheduled meetings with the archbishop.
The Northern Ireland Office said it had no involvement in the trip.
The archbishop not only heads the CoE but is spiritual leader to what the Anglican Communion Office estimates is an 85 million-strong community of Anglicans worldwide.