Christian unity in a multi-religious world


Ecumenists from throughout the United States gathered together at the National Workshop on Christian Unity 2017 earlier this month in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The workshop continues to be the only national gathering of its kind in the world. The event brings together ecumenical representatives, ecumenists and interested members from all churches who share one faith, one baptism in Jesus Christ. This year’s workshop included a rich program of plenaries and seminars, a concert and banquet, off-site tours of various churches and many opportunities to gather together in prayer.

The theme of this year’s gathering was “Reform, Repent, Reconcile.” The overarching focus was the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of events in the Wittenberg of 1517AD, known as the Reformation, that initiated both a series of reforms and hostilities among the Christians in Western Europe.

The planners of the workshop stated that this year’s gathering was “a time to remember reforms, reformers and reformations in the life of the church. And it is a time to work together on our common journey to heal the wounds of discord and separation so that the world may believe.”

It was an opportunity to welcome several new denominational leaders in joining with those involved in the work of unity to celebrate the progress of reconciliation among Christians that we have worked so hard to achieve over the past several decades.

Roman Catholic ecumenists numbered almost 80 participants. We belong to a national organization known as the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO), which is comprised of ecumenical officers from the 206 dioceses in the United States. I have the honor of serving as the vice president of the organization.

CADEIO began the week by gathering the executive board at the Saint Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocesan offices. After our meeting we attended Mass with Archbishop Bernard Hebda at the beautiful Basilica of Saint Mary, followed by lunch and discussion with the archbishop.

One of the highlights of the CADEIO program was a joint plenary with the Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Representatives Network, entitled, “Next Steps on the Way.” It was presented by The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and retired Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore.

This plenary featured personal narratives from the experience of Common Prayer that took place in Lund, Sweden, presided over by Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Younan, president of The Lutheran World Federation.

At this service this past October, Pope Francis began his remarks by saying, “In the context of the commemoration of the Reformation of 1517AD, we have a new opportunity to accept a common path, one that has taken shape over the past 50 years in the ecumenical dialogue between The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.”

Bishops Madden and Eaton gave us their reflections on the implications of the Joint Statement “From Conflict to Communion” and the “Declaration on the Way,” two historic and groundbreaking agreements between Lutherans and Catholics. They shared how to use these official declarations for local pastoral practice and explored how our respective church canons on reception of communion from Catholic and Lutheran perspectives can help us move toward a time for sharing our personal experiences of unity and hopes for a fuller communion in the places where we minister.

We also had an opportunity to attend an evening concert and hymn festival at the local Central Lutheran Church reflecting on the themes of reform, repentance and reconciliation.

We also had the opportunity to get out of the hotel and tour ecclesial art and architecture in various Christian churches in the Twin Cities. We worked together on a service ministry project together to join in the one Christian endeavor that has no division — Christian service!

Other plenary sessions dealt with themes such as: Refugee Resettlement, Councils of Churches, Muslim — Christian Cooperation in Ministry, Preserving the Christian Heritage in the Middle East, Social and Environmental Justice, Moral Imperative to Address Climate Change, Liturgy and Prayer, Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World and many other interesting topics on Christian unity.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.