ECUMENICAL PANEL — A panel on the work of ecumenism was held at the CCCB annual plenary recently. On the panel, from left: Gail Allan, a member of the United Church/Roman Catholic dialogue; Quebec Anglican Bishop Dennis Drainville of the Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue; Rev. David Freeman, a Baptist member of the Evangelical/Catholic dialogue; CCC general secretary Karen Hamilton; Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan; Romanian Orthodox member Adriana Bara, who heads the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal and is part of the Orthodox/Roman Catholic dialogue. (D. Gyapong photo)

Ecumenical partners share experiences of dialogue

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News

BEAUPRÉ, Que. (CCN) — Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan said one of the Second Vatican Council’s principle concerns was ecumenism, yet 50 years later Christians are still divided.

“Ecumenism is hard work,” the bishop told the more than 80 bishops gathered here Sept. 15 - 19 for the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a panel he chaired Sept. 16 reflecting on the progress since the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism 50 years ago.

Bohan highlighted the “ongoing collaboration” the CCCB began with the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), becoming a full member in 1998. The CCC has a membership of 25 churches and ecclesial communities, making it the largest ecumenical body in Canada, he said.

He also explained how the CCCB’s Episcopal Commission on Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue supports ecumenical activities on a national scale. Its three main goals have been establishing relations with the national leaders of other churches and ecclesial communities, being a focal point of ecumenical activities to assist the bishops, and sponsoring ecumenical dialogue that is going on with: the Orthodox, the Polish National Catholic Church of Canada, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the United Church of Canada and most recently with Evangelicals.

Each of these dialogues includes a bishop, he said, noting he was participating in the dialogue with Evangelical Christians that began in 2011.

Bohan described how he grew up in New Brunswick and ministered as a priest there for 37 years.

“Among the Protestant communities, the Baptists stood out most prominently,” he said. “To say we Catholics considered them the enemy was an exaggeration, but not by much!”

“The chasm was wide and deep,” he said. “But when it came to the sincerity of their religious observances, the Baptists were a lot like Catholics.”

The dialogue has produced a “cascade of happy surprises,” he said. “These have given us palpable hope for our future as disciples of Christ.”

“I’ve been provided with the opportunity to encounter people who are different from me in the way they live and receive their Christian faith,” and he has come to see them as people who love Jesus Christ, and follow him as committed disciples. “Big differences remain but this has been a shining light for me,” Bohan said.

Rev. David Freeman, a Baptist member of the Evangelical/Catholic dialogue, noted co-operation between Evangelicals and Christians began through co-operation on parliamentary issues and Supreme Court cases concerning life, marriage and the protection of the vulnerable. The dialogue that began in 2011 enabled them to pray together, engage in dialogue, learn from one another and dispel harmful stereotypes, he said.

“I pray we will find ways to be truly evangelical — bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ and all the blessings that accompany that Good News,” he said, expressing hopes of “raising the spiritual temperature in Canada.”

Adriana Bara, who heads the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal and is part of the Orthodox/Roman Catholic dialogue, outlined a history of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism and its historic innovations. She also expressed gratitude for the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Orthodox as well as the co-operation on the ground. Very often Orthodox communities share the same building as Catholic worshippers. She expressed gratitude for this generosity. Her mission at the centre was to help this “rapprochement” between Catholics and Orthodox and with others, she said.

Gail Allan, a member of the United Church/Roman Catholic dialogue, said dialogue between the two bodies had been going on for 40 years. “Members expect to learn from and be challenged by each other,” she said.

As Canada’s two largest denominations, the “love of Christ and the mission of God” have remained strong “even at times of quite public disagreement,” she said.

In the most recent dialogue on marriage, where the United Church supported redefinition to include same-sex couples, the example the dialogue provided of engaging honestly but civilly on issues provided a model for all civil society, she said.

Quebec Anglican Bishop Dennis Drainville of the Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue spoke of the fruits of the engagement, that has included significant documents on the eucharist, baptism and the role of Mary.

“I think our common life reveals flashes of dynamic hope,” he said, acknowledging “challenges to overcome.”

Among the challenges he listed: the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate in the Anglican Church; the ordination of active homosexuals; the blessings of same-sex unions; the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus that offered a structure for Anglicans wishing to become Catholic; and the Catholic Church’s attitude toward Anglican orders as lacking validity.

Despite these challenges, the “fruit is revealed in the day to day relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics who live and work together in greater harmony than at any time in the past,” the Anglican archbishop said.

Canadian Council of Churches general secretary Karen Hamilton praised the “thoughtfulness” of the statements the Catholic Church makes, describing them as “biblically and theologically founded.”

Hamilton expressed hopes the churches would pay more attention to the question of self-definition.

She used as an example the Coptic Orthodox who also have a pope. She said she had recently met him and he had the same “twinkle in his eye” as Pope Francis.

“We all need to think about self-definition, how we define to ourselves and how we allow others to define ourselves,” she said.

She also expressed hope for engaging “in an ecumenical way, the pluralism of this country.”

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