SASKATOON — An international group of Evangelical and Catholic Christians will meet this year in Saskatoon, with hopes of finalizing an agreed statement.
This consultation between the World Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic Church started in 2009. The goal of the current round of consultation is to come to better understanding of each other, and to foster more efficient co-operation between Catholics and Evangelicals especially at the grassroots level.
The current round of consultation was planned by Cardinal Walter Kasper when he was serving as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), Msgr. Juan Usma, PCPCU staff member for relations with Evangelicals, and Dr. Rolf Hille, director for Ecumenical Affairs of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). The WEA draws together families of Evangelical Churches and Christians, and estimates that it has connections to approximately 600 million Christians.
Given the number of Catholics and Evangelicals in the world today, this consultation is both urgently important and full of potential, says Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, a Canadian Catholic bishop serving on the consultation.
“It is the principal way in which Evangelicals and Catholics are in conversation on a global level,” he said. National and local dialogues or working relationships also exist in some parts of the world, while relations remain very poor in other places.”
At the international level, there have been two earlier phases of dialogue between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. The first phase resulted in the 1984 report Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission. The broad focus of the report was on the Christian mission, but it included initial treatment of a variety of theological points of tension, including the Scriptures, salvation, the church, Mary and the saints, and the sacraments.
A second phase of dialogue (1993- 2002) produced a report entitled Church, Evangelization and the Bonds of Koinonia. “This document outlined an understanding of the church as communion or fellowship using the ecumenically rich theme of koinonia. On the basis of the degree of communion recognized, the dialogue moved to a consideration of the prospects for co-operation in witness and evangelization,” said Bolen.
The 13 members of the consultation come from 10 different countries — Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Kenya, the Philippines, Spain, and USA. “This diversity allows many different voices to be given expression in our discussions,” said Bolen.
“The dialogue has built on the experience of common witness and friendship which characterizes Evangelical-Catholic dialogue relations in some places, and has attended to places where those relations continue to be marked by tension and distrust. Many different voices have been given expression in our discussions.”
Three principal themes have been taken up in the consultation: a mapping out of convergences on doctrinal foundations and moral questions, which open the door to closer relations; the relationship between Scripture and tradition and their authoritative roles; and the role of the Church in salvation.
Consultation members have noted that they are not in the business of compromise and negotiation; the way forward was to patiently map out convergences, and to engage in a respectful and frank conversation about remaining differences. Along the way, the consultation developed a methodology that has proven helpful, said Bolen.
“Our meetings involved presentations and discussions which we have tried to summarize by first articulating common ground; secondly, by naming aspects of the other tradition which give us encouragement, where we rejoice in seeing God at work, and where we may learn from the other; thirdly, we have asked each other questions, questions which linger at this point in our conversations,” said Bolen. “It is to be hoped that these questions will be our contribution to further rounds of consultation.”
The consultation has met in different places, experiencing Evangelical-Catholic relations in various parts of the world. This round of consultations has taken place at São Paulo, Brazil (2009), Rome, Italy (2011), Wheaton/Chicago, USA (2012), Guatemala City, Guatemala (2013), Bad Blankenburg, Germany (2014), and the final meeting will take place in Saskatoon from Aug. 30 to Sept. 4. The international consultation also commissioned a survey to assess Evangelical-Catholic relations and attitudes toward each other in different parts of the world.