Catholics, Lutherans close year of hope

Thursday, November 09, 2017 - Updated: 12:07 pm

By Jerry Zufelt Correspondent

LATROBE, Pa. — Five centuries after the start of the Reformation, an event that still divides Catholics from other Christian churches today, Catholics and Lutherans gathered at Saint Vincent College in a commemoration of hope. They discussed and gave thanks for the progress toward unity made by the two churches in the past 50 years, and prayed for continued progress on that journey to unity.

“Opposition to ‘the other’ has changed,” Metropolitan Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh said in his reflection at the prayer service Oct. 28 that concluded a day of talks, reflections, break-out sessions and worship.

Noting the 50 years of ongoing dialogue inspired by the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Skurla said, “We have seen movement to greater unity, and we are thankful for all the work of the people engaged with other churches.”

While there are many areas of consensus between the two churches, he noted that there are areas of disagreement.

“It is slow and tedious work,” he said of the journey to unity. “But in God, all things are possible.

“We pray that we continue to draw closer, and we continue to pray that we fulfill the Lord’s directive that we all may be one.”

The prayer service was led by Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and Lutheran Bishop Kurt Kusserow.

The service included proclamation of Scripture; a sprinkling rite as a sign of affirmation of Catholic and Lutheran unity in Christian baptism; recitation of the five ecumenical imperatives from the 2017 Catholic-Lutheran document, “From Conflict to Communion;” and intercessory prayers.

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new,” Bishop Zubik read from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians during the blessing of the water.

“Uphold us, your servants, in the gift and promises of baptism, and unite the hearts of all whom you have brought to new birth,” he prayed.

Bishop Zubik, Archbishop Skurla, Bishop Kusserow and Msgr. Larry Kulick, representing Greensburg Bishop Edward Malesic, sprinkled the congregation with the holy water.

After the blessing, the five imperatives from “Conflict to Communion” were recited by Catholic and Lutheran laity. The imperatives are:

• Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common.

• Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the natural witness of faith.

• Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.

• Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.

• Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.

The day began with a keynote address by Dr. John Borelli, special assistant for Catholic identity and dialogue to the president of Georgetown University and a leading academic expert on ecumenical and interreligious dialogues. He addressed the day’s theme in “Together in Hope: Hope and the Ecumenical Future.”

He reviewed the history of ecumenical dialogue since the Second Vatican Council, including a 1981 meeting he attended in Minnesota, and noted the “extraordinary” joint statement signed by Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Yunan in Lund, Sweden, on Oct. 31, 2016, that marked the opening of the observance of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary.

“We find hope in their invitation,” Borelli said, adding that the “five imperatives give us hope.”

He cited a 2015 book, “Re-membering the Body of Christ,” that he co-authored with five other scholars and pastoral leaders in advance of the 500th anniversary that focuses on the shared practices, witness and hope of Catholics and Lutherans.

“We must remember who and whose we are,” Borelli said. “The ecumenical movement continues as a journey that began in Galilee.”

Pope Francis and Bishop Yunan said that through dialogue and shared witness, “we have learned that what unites us is greater than what divides us,” he said.

In a question-and-answer session after his remarks and following reflections from a Catholic priest and Lutheran pastor, Borelli said he believes there is hope that both faith traditions will be able to eventually share the Eucharist, but the issue is challenging.

Afternoon break-out sessions, each led by a Catholic and a Lutheran, featured discussions on three topics: prayer, worship and spiritual ecumenism; joint witness and service; and life in marriage, family and community.

The day marked the conclusion of a year of events in the region that was coordinated by a committee from the Catholic dioceses of Greensburg and Pittsburgh, the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Zufelt is editor of The Catholic Accent newspaper of the Diocese of Greensburg.

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