A daring gesture of ecumenical initiative came this month in an announcement from Lambeth Palace:

Dr. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, titular head of the world Anglican communion, had succeeded in arranging an early December audience with Pope John XXIII.

Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Church of England, will call on the pontiff as the climax of an 11-day, 4,671-mile tour in the interests of ecumenicity. He plans to arrive in Rome December 1, after visits to Orthodox patriarchs in Jerusalem and Istanbul.

Vatican and Anglican spokesmen decried the “summitry” image which quickly developed around the projected encounter, stressing instead “courtesy call” and “fellowship” aspects. Not even an agenda would be drawn up, they said.

While no revolutionary compromises are expected to result from the meeting, many observers nevertheless believe it almost certain that church unity will be a chief topic of discussion between the two churchmen.

There was immediate speculation of what effect the talks would have upon Roman Catholicism’s forthcoming Ecumenical Council.

The meeting “may have incalculable consequences in the years to come,” says the Rev. Stephen F. Bayne, Jr., American Episcopal bishop who is now considered the world’s second-ranking Anglican as executive officer under Fisher.

Although Fisher is a former president of the World Council of Churches, Bayne denied that the papal visit will amount to a “religious summit meeting.” He did say that it is in response to “a change in the climate of the Vatican” which “can’t help but be encouraging to anyone who stops to think about it.”

Bayne cited establishment in Rome of a secretariat for contact with non-Roman churches, calling it “essentially a recognition of the World Council ...

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