Unity among Christians is a priority for the Church at the highest level, with Pope Francis joining his predecessors in leading the prayer for unity.
That priority translates into concerted efforts among theologians and Church leaders to work out and dismantle the barriers to unity. But even when these theologians and leaders make progress, the “people in the pews” — whether in the pews of Catholic churches or other Christian churches — are too often unaware that progress has been made. The priests and pastors standing before those people might be unaware as well.
The preacher of the pontifical household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, is scheduled to address the summit.
The April 30-May 1 conference will be held in Virginia.
ZENIT spoke with organizer Deacon Darrell Wentworth about the conference and progress in the ecumenical movement.
ZENIT: Couldn’t we say that the Church has made Christian unity (ecumenism) a priority since Vatican II, and definitely over the last three pontificates. Are we getting anywhere? What’s the ecumenical landscape today?
Deacon Wentworth: There are numerous efforts that are happening worldwide, I believe, directly because of the initiative of Vatican II. We have the official dialogues that have resulted in major agreements between Christian traditions, such as the Joint Declaration on Justification between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions. This declaration in effect ended Luther’s final debate. There are also grassroots efforts among the laity that are changing the attitudes among Christians of every stream. The pro-life movement is causing Christians to rethink their prejudices of each other. The new Fatherhood campaign, the Reclaiming Easter project, Cry Out America, and The National Day of Prayer are others, to mention just a few.
What is needed now is a change of heart in the middle management — priests and pastors of every Christian stream ending their distrust of each other and developing prayer-care-share relationships among themselves to meet their spiritual relationship needs.
I am part of a small group of pastors who get together once a month (more or less) to have coffee, talk, and pray with each other: not formally – relationally! They pray for me; I pray for them. They understand my needs because their needs are my needs; we all minister to American Christians in the same city. What has developed is friendship, so that now when one of these pastors meets a Catholic who is struggling with their faith, they refer them to me. This level of trust develops over time and does not develop because of theology. However, I have spent a great deal of time over the last 10 years explaining to my fellow ministers why Catholics do the things they do. It would not have been possible if I had not developed friendships with them where they felt safe to share their life with me.
ZENIT: Pope Francis is following his predecessors’ lead in calling for Christian unity, but his recent outreach to Kenneth Copeland has been called unprecedented. What is your analysis of what happened?
Deacon Wentworth: Pope Francis took the relationship from theological formation to human formation. We are too busy most of the time trying to prove our point, instead of trying to relate to our fellow Christians and members of the same family. We theologically recognize their baptism, but we treat them as the prodigal son. The Holy Father modeled the father in the parable of the prodigal son. We get to choose if we are going to model the father or if we are going to act like the older brother.
Neal Lozano wrote a book a number of years ago titled The Older Brother Returns. It would be a good book to read again at this time in history of the church and relate it to our fellow Christians.
On another note, Dr. Dale Coulter, from Regent University’s School of Divinity, and I discussed the video over lunch after it came out. One of the comments he made has really resonated with me. He said that it is unfair for Roman Catholics to view Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians in the same way that we relate to churches originating from the Protestant Reformation. We relate to them on a theological level. Rather, when we relate to the traditions that have been birthed by the Holy Spirit in the last 100 years, we would best relate to them in light of the mendicant orders of the middle ages: a hunger for holiness, a thirst for righteousness, and a longing for evangelization. Those are three of the pillars of the church: Oneness in Christ, Holy because of Christ, Apostolic out of the mission of Christ.
ZENIT: The Vatican’s leaders in working for ecumenism have spoken about the unique role martyrs have or might have in bringing about Church unity. From your perspective in the US, are the current battles over religious freedom positive elements in the work for Christian unity?
Deacon Wentworth: Anytime Christians are forced to “die to self and live for Christ” it is a good thing. I used to live in Berlin, Germany. While there, a Russian Christian told me that the Russians prayed daily that the Christians in the United States would experience persecution so that their complacency would end. I have felt that American Christians have elevated apathy to the level of a charism. Matthew Kelly’s organization The Dynamic Catholic Institute did a study that stated that only 7% of American Catholics are engaged in their faith. Persecution is one way that God can bring us out of our apathy. I would hope that we would be like Mother Mary and choose to say, “Yes,” perpetually to the voice of the Lord, not harden our hearts. But, whatever God’s will is, I am certain the Holy Spirit is going to accomplish it; Philippians 1:6 is always true: He who began the good work in us is going to bring it to completion!
ZENIT: Tell us about the upcoming conference and its goals.
Deacon Wentworth: We desire to foster relationships between the pastors of all Christian traditions. John 17:21-22 states that unless the Church is acting as ONE the world will not believe. The two largest Christian streams are Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism/Charismatic Christianity. These two traditions are engaged in the largest evangelization endeavor in the history of humanity: The New Evangelization and Empowered 21. The root of both processes of evangelization is to encounter Christ personally first, then fully embrace a relationship with the Holy Spirit as part of our baptismal charisms. In the Roman tradition, our bishops have produced three important documents that lead the way: Apostolicam actuositatem, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, and Disciples Called to Witness. All three documents encourage the clergy to empower the laity in their charisms. Archbishop Miller clearly stated that need at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012.
This call is especially relevant regarding our ecumenical call as Roman Catholics. With over 53 million Catholics and less than 20,000 active clergy, it is unrealistic for Roman clergy to think they can devote enough time to this essential requirement of evangelization. However, when they model the relationship with a few of their ecumenical partners, it expresses to the laity the importance of having the same attitude toward their fellow Christians. This summit will provide a blueprint to form safe relationships between Christian pastors so our laity can effectively build bridges among themselves to evangelize our cities according to the outlines developed by the Awakening America Alliance and United In Christ, North America.
Deacon Wentworth: Absolutely! When I proposed to my future wife and took her home to meet my dad, I made certain she was well prepared for my family. She, of course, also wanted to make a great impression. My mom already knew her, and they were good friends even before they met face to face. When my dad finally met my fiancé (wife), it was a huge success, and they developed a great relationship. If that is important to me as a human, how much more is it going to be for Jesus to present a spotless bride to His Father! And don’t you think His mother is making all of the preparations, too, to make it a huge success!
I love what Pope Francis said: “When God starts something, He finishes it well.” Church unity was not started by us. The Holy Spirit started the ecumenical work. He will finish it well. He will finish it completely. He will finish it on time, in His way, according to His plan. He is the only one who can. We simply need to cooperate with him and be like Mother Mary and continue to say “yes” to each open door. When the Holy Spirit throws open the door, we need to rush into the room. Pope Francis knocked down the door, dismantled the hinges, and threw the doors out of the way with his video. We need to run into the room before those who hate the unity of Jesus’ Church have time to rebuild the door and lock it again.
On the Net:
Pastors, Leaders, Clergy Summit: http://unitedinchristna.org/clergy-summit-2014-2/