It has been a busy month on the ecumenical and interreligious stage locally and nationally.
Christian ecumenists from throughout the country converged in Louisville, Ky., for the National Workshop on Christian Unity at the end of last month. As early as 1963, a group of Catholics inspired by the ecumenical challenge of the Second Vatican Council met to equip local leaders for the task of ecumenical ministry. In 1969, they invited other Christian communions to join, and today the national ecumenical officers of the nation meet annually at this gathering for both training in the ministry of ecumenism and interreligious outreach and ecumenical networking and education.
The purpose of these gatherings includes the following: providing seminars for all who are concerned with the ministry of Christian unity; stimulating an exchange of ideas and experiences; being a resource and balance between national planning and local responsibilities, generating ecumenical discussions; encouraging denominational networks to develop; and lastly, celebrating the unity which already exists among Christians and searching for ways to overcome the divisions that remain.
Within this wider body, each denomination has its own particular network. For the Catholic Church in America, we have the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO). CADEIO is an association of Ecumenical Officers who serve at the request of their bishop as a delegate for ecumenical and interreligious affairs. The final authority of CADEIO is the General Assembly, which is guided by the board of directors and the executive committee. The board consists of 15 regional members – one elected from each of the 14 geographical regions in the country and one member representing the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States.
The executive officers consist of the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, who serve for a term of three years with one renewable term. At the meeting of the General Assembly in April, I was elected vice president of CADEIO.
On May 1 the Jewish, Catholic, Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey held its Breaking Bread Together, a panel discussion at Christ our Light Parish in Cherry Hill. We had a very good turnout from each of the faith groups, as well as a number of young participants. The topic was “Defeating Extremism: Jews, Catholics and Muslims, Working Together in the Spirit of Nostra Aetate.”
I represented the Catholic view, while Rabbi Lewis Eron, a local Jewish scholar, and Imam Morshad Saami Hossain gave their religious views on the topic. Discussions after the symposium with a group of young Jewish and Muslim college students, who meet with their Catholic counterparts every Monday evening, gave me hope for the future.
On May 5, I joined some teachers and students from our Wildwood Catholic High School in attending the local synagogue, Beth Judah, for an evening of remembrance of the Holocaust and the 6 million murdered, in a service known as Yom Ha’Shoah. The main speaker, Ruth Fisch Kessler, is a survivor of the Kindertransport. She was born in 1933 in Vienna Austria and was one of 10,000 children who fled from their homes and were transported to Liverpool Station in London where they met their foster parents. She gave a riveting and harrowing account of the pain she experienced as a child ripped from her home, relocated with strangers and learning of the death of her mother and sister.
On Friday, May 6, I attended the Father Thom Schiavo Brotherhood Service, where local figures are honored for their contributions to good relations among people of faith and learning. The three recipients this year were Dr. Harvey Kesselman, the fifth president of Stockton University; Dr. Maryann McLoughlin, Stockton University professor who teaches rhetoric and composition, Holocaust and genocide literature, music and the Holocaust and Asian and African literature; and Don Williams, the morning talk-show host on radio station WOND-1400 AM, whose voice and opinions has been heard for the past 25 years. As always, the inimitable promoter of unity, Rabbi Aaron Krauss, led the service.