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The Rev. Mark Lewis now offers a prayer every Sunday morning that centuries ago would have been considered an homage to the enemy. It’s a prayer for the bishop of Rome, the pope and all the Catholic bishops and priests.

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Lewis chants, “For Benedict our Pope … Let us prayer to the Lord.”

And the congregation sings its answer, “Lord, have mercy.”

The distinctly Roman Catholic offering is the outward sign of an inner spiritual journey. St. Luke’s Church in Bladensburg, Md., will become later this year the first American Episcopal Parish to convert to Catholicism, Anglicanism’s one-time nemesis.

“What really drew us was the apostolic authority, the oneness of the faith of the people,” Lewis said “That’s what we really wanted, and I don’t think you have that in Anglicanism.”

Ironically, what is driving St. Luke’s to Roman Catholicism is what split the church in the first place: the issue of authority.

Nearly 500 years ago, Britain’s King Henry VIII broke with Rome in a dispute involving his wish to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his young mistress, Anne Boleyn.

A showdown forced England’s clergy to choose sides, with the king demanding to know if the British bishops and Cardinals were more loyal to him or to the Pope.

Lives and heads were literally lost in the ensuing theological and political clash. In its wake, The Church of England was born, with the sitting monarch as its head, a structure still in place today.

The American version, the Episcopal church, was the faith of many of the founding fathers, including President George Washington.

Today, the Episcopal Church, with nearly 1.5 million members, is one of thousands of Christian denominations in the U.S. Its recent conflicts over the ordination of gays and women and the blessing of same-sex unions have caused some congregations to seek more conservative branches.

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But that was not an option for St. Luke’s. Lewis says he felt that the same problem would persist. There was no authority concerning who would have the final interpretation of scripture over the most controversial issues the church is facing.