The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has praised Pope Francis for showing solidarity with migrant people and others who suffer exclusion and poverty.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made his remarks as the Pope received him in the Vatican.

Dr Welby told his host that Anglicans are blessed by both his teaching and example.

He praised the Pope for recalling Christians afresh to the needs of ministering with the poor and for setting a Christ-like example by travelling to places of suffering and difficulty.

"You have stood alongside migrant peoples. You have initiated work on modern slavery and human trafficking and much more.

"You gave essential force to (last year's UN-sponsored) meeting of nations in Paris on climate change," the Pope's guest continued.

He added that the Argentinean Pope's letters and teaching documents - called Encyclicals - had spoken far beyond the Roman church, in a universal manner.

The Pontiff responded that God challenges Christians to reach out from themselves and their environs in order to bring His merciful love to a world thirsting for peace.

He proposed that the two Churches - Roman Catholic (with 1.2 billion members) and the 85 million-strong Anglican Communion - help one another to prioritise the Gospel's demands to expend their energies in practical ways in this mission.

Yesterday, the two leaders pledged work together to help the poor and protect the environment despite differences over women priests and gay marriage which are impeding moves towards uniting their Churches.

Their joint statement was made at an evening prayer - or vespers - service in Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of theological dialogue between the two Churches in 1966. 

In their joint declaration, the Pope and Dr Welby said their two Churches could do much together despite "the imperfect union we already share".

The vespers were held in the same Roman church from where Pope Gregory I sent St Augustine to convert the English in 597, nearly 1,000 years before King Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534 to found the Church of England.

After the 1534 schism, which was precipitated by Rome's refusal to grant King Henry a divorce, there had been no meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope until 1966 when Dr Michael Ramsey met Pope Paul VI.