U.S. Jesuits honour ABC Williams with prize named after English martyr

January 15, 2010
williams preaching

Archbishop Rowan Williams leads Christmas carol service at Canterbury Cathedral, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

Poor Rowan Williams. Only a few weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion was caught offguard by a Vatican offer of a new Roman home for Anglicans who cannot accept the idea of women bishops. At a joint news conference with London’s Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols, he did his ecumenical best to present this as a quite normal gesture among friendly Christian churches and not — as some media presented it — a Roman strategy to poach wandering sheep from the divided Anglican flock. It was proof of his sharp intellect and deep commitment to the ecumenical cause that Williams found a way to finesse this very trying situation.

america mag

America magazine

Now another challenge has come not from across the Tiber, but across the Atlantic. The New York-based Jesuit weekly magazine America has just said it is proud to announce that The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the 2009 recipient of the Campion Award. The award is given on a regular basis to a noted Christian person of letters. It is named after St. Edmund Campion, S.J., who is patron of America’s communications ministry.”

What an award to give to the world’s top Anglican! As the press release explains about the man to whom the prize is dedicated, “a martyr of the English Reformation, Edmund Campion stirred Elizabethan England with his daring missionary efforts and the great power of his pen.” What it politely skates over is the fact that Campion was drawn and quartered for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith (see image below). For more about the Catholic view of Campion’s life, just click over to the Catholic Encyclopedia. The quick takeaway from all this is that the archbishop of the Church of England will be honoured with an award named after an English Jesuit martyred for his heroic struggle against — the Church of  England!

Campion

Edmund Campion/ British Library

Anyone who knows the magazine America and the American Jesuits who produce it know they mean this as a sincere appreciation of the archbishop and his tireless work for ecumenical and interfaith understanding. Williams will surely accept it with grace and wit, in the spirit in which it was offered. But while times have changed and relations between Catholics and Anglicans are vastly improved, it still seems a bit strange to present an Archbishop of Canterbury with an award named after Edmund Campion. But that’s the name of America magazine’s highest award, and we have to assume its award is sincerely meant. Maybe the ability to look beyond these limitations is at the heart of ecumenical understanding.

The America announcement notes helpfully that “the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England remember Campion in their calendars of saints.” All the better.  Still, this will require quite some finessing. It will be interesting to see how Williams handles this in his acceptance speech. The award will be presented in New York on January 25, at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

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