First Year’s Impressions
John Crossin, OSFS
With the turn of the new year, I celebrate one year of full-time service as executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (SEIA ) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. USCCB. Fr. Tom Ryan invited me to share a few of my first year impressions of the lay of the land.
1. From the numerous dialogues, conversations, conferences and meetings that I have been a part of, I have learned that there are many dedicated people pursuing ecumenical and interreligious relationships.
A. Many bishops and scholars take part in the 12 formal dialogues sponsored by the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs . Three of these are regional dialogues with the Muslim communities; two dialogues are with Jewish partners; seven dialogues are with our fellow Christians—Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, and Polish National Catholic. The SEIA also has a host of less formal conversations with churches and individuals.
B. Large numbers of people take part in local groups such as clergy sharing groups, ecumenical social justice ministries, committees, dialogues, and the like. These groups are often invisible and sometimes taken for granted. They need just a little encouragement.
2. I am even more convinced than ever that the long-term commitment of one or two people can make a big difference. A couple of people can catalyze a group. Many other people will serve if one or two take the time to lead, to put some energy into a project or task.
3. I think a New Era in Ecumenism is slowly dawning. There are a number of trends visible. Here are three:
A. There is a return to the original ecumenical emphasis on Mission. For Catholics this is now expressing itself in the New Evangelization. There is a dawning realization that our mission to share Christ with others needs to be done ecumenically, to be done together, in order for it to be most effective.
B. We are also realizing that the pattern of who is doing the leading is shifting. We priests and religious are becoming less numerous. Deacons and lay men and women are providing more of the leadership in the movement. Laity were leaders in the early decades after the Edinburgh meeting in 1910, and there is evidence that they are reassuming that role now.
C. Reception of the results of decades of dialogue is now coming to the fore. Cardinal Kasper’s book Harvesting the Fruits [Continuum, 2009] makes the results of five decades of international dialogue accessible to the educated person. This would be a good text for a local ecumenical discussion group.
Cardinal Kasper’s classic Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism [New City Press, 2007] provides numerous practical suggestions for local prayerful ecumenical efforts. I highly recommend this concise text.
As more such summary texts appear, Reception at the local level of these basic ecumenical convergences will progress. I find enormous good will toward ecumenism among the faithful-in-the-pew.
4. I am impressed by the fact that the Catholic Church, and our Secretariat in particular, has become a crossroads for ecumenical conversations. We talk to almost everybody. This keeps us very busy. As mentioned above we have seven formal dialogues of long-standing. The membership of the USCCB in the Christian Churches Together national organization provides a most significant location for staying in touch with a large number of our ecumenical friends.
We also have many less-formal conversations which take place regularly. For example, we are speaking more and more with our Evangelical friends. There are numerous local conversations in dioceses. This is quite appropriate given the non-hierarchical organization of Evangelical communities. But now there seems to be a gradual turning toward national conversations of some type. I see a move here from practical collaboration on some social issues to consideration of theological differences.
5. Our Secretariat is committed to providing quality educational materials to ‘rising ecumenists’ and participants in interreligious dialogues.
We will continue to provide short instructional videos on our website.
We will be developing models for ecumenical and interreligious education that can be used locally. We already have a model for a “Generations of Faith” day [interreligious dialogue]. Other models will follow.
I would say in closing that I have enjoyed meeting many of the readers of this e-newsletter. I learn a great deal in our conversations. Each day I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide all of us in our work for Christian Unity and Interreligious understanding.
Father John Crossin is a priest of the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales. He currently serves as executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He served previously as executive director of the Washington Theological Consortium (1998-2011).