Bishop delivers ecumenical lecture at Episcopal church

Saturday, October 01, 2016 - Updated: 1:00 am
By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

Bishop David Zubik recalled having a Holy Saturday dinner with friends when a bottle of wine arrived at his table, courtesy of the couple across the room. Glancing over, he realized that it was Bishop Dorsey McConnell of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and his wife, Betsy.

But he said the meeting was the sign of a much deeper reality than a beautiful friendship. It was a sign of collaborators in the mission of Jesus, working together against difficult conditions to serve the wider Christian community.

“Isn’t this what Pope Francis is calling all of us to at this point in history?” he asked.

Bishop Zubik spoke of ecumenical relationships in the era of Pope Francis during the 19th Annual St. Andrew’s Lecture Sept. 23 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood.

The bishop pointed out that there is much happening today that offers hope for rebuilding Christian unity and for letting go of prejudices that have led to division. He spoke of the collaboration between Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis. Consecrated within days of each other, they have been eager partners on issues of social justice, peace and the environment.

“The brotherly affection between them is clear, as it is between my friends Dorsey, Betsy and myself,” he said.

Bishop Zubik noted that, during his first visit with the Holy Father, Archbishop Welby wore the ring that Blessed Pope Paul VI gave to one of his predecessors, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, during their historic meeting in 1966. That visit marked the first meeting between a pope and an archbishop of Canterbury in more than 400 years.

The bishop said that when Pope Francis went to Uganda he visited the shrine for Anglican martyrs before he visited the shrine for Catholic martyrs who died under the same brutal regime. And earlier this year, the Holy Father invited a representative of Archbishop Welby to bless the congregation gathered at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Pope Francis has called division among faiths “an open wound in the body of Christ,” and he has asked for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics toward Christians of other churches, Bishop Zubik added. 

He spoke of how the faithful cannot let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate relationships, and how they must let the mercy of God renew bonds. It has been inspiring for him, Bishop Zubik noted, to be a member of the ecumenical planning group for southwestern Pennsylvania’s observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Bishop Zubik said that such a collaboration would have been impossible when he was a child 60 years ago. He said Pope Francis has said that any commemoration of the Reformation must take place in a spirit of dialogue and humility. But while theological dialogue is important, he noted, the key to unity lies in prayer.

“That is at heart the essential understanding of Pope Francis on ecumenism today,” he said.

Bishop Zubik noted that the ecumenical mission today is to reintroduce faith and re-evangelize together, especially among the young. While the Catholic Church welcomes Christians of other faith traditions, he said, it does not target them or try to recruit them. Hence, unity does not mean one side trying to convince the other of the soundness of its opinions.

“We need one another,” he said. “We need to encounter one another and challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities, overcomes conflicts and recognizes differences.”

The bishop pointed to the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission pilgrimage involving 36 Anglican and Catholic bishops that will begin in Canterbury Sept. 30. It will move on to Rome, where it will visit the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and join Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby in marking the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Blessed Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey.

An attitude of openness, cooperation and respect for different traditions is present in the Pittsburgh area, Bishop Zubik said. He pointed out that one of the most beautiful ecumenical experiences of his life took place when religious leaders gathered at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood during the G-20 gathering in 2009. Some members, he noted, put aside serious disputes to come together.

In addressing the 2008 split that saw the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh split from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the bishop spoke of Bishop McConnell and Bishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Diocese later praying together and working side-by-side for the good of the wider community.

Bishop Zubik also noted that some of his most cherished memories involving Episcopalians have occurred at St. Paul Cathedral. He was a seminarian when Bishop Robert Appleyard was installed there in 1968 because a fire had damaged Trinity Cathedral. It was the first time an Episcopal bishop had been consecrated in a Catholic cathedral.

In 1997, Bishop Donald Wuerl invited Bishop Duncan to be installed at St. Paul’s. That tradition of ecumenical hospitality is why the Catholic cathedral hosted the Sept. 10 installation of Bishop James Hobby as the new bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Catholic and Episcopal leaders joined civic officials to help minimize the effects of the steel industry’s collapse, Bishop Zubik said. Bishop McConnell, he said, has the same vision of civic engagement, and he expressed hope that the faith traditions can work together. He also noted that Bishop McConnell has called on Episcopalians to engage in a “public Gospel,” much the way that Catholics in the Diocese of Pittsburgh are being challenged to be part of On Mission for The Church Alive!

“I truly believe,” he said. “I truly know. That ecumenism in southwestern Pennsylvania will grow stronger.” 

Bishop McConnell pointed out that while the road to reunification among Christians is still complicated, he has been encouraged by Bishop Zubik’s friendship and partnership in spreading the Gospel. He borrowed a phrase used by Blessed Pope Paul VI in greeting Archbishop Ramsey, stating, “David, by entering our house you are entering into your own house, and we could not be happier to open our door and our heart to you.”

The Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive minister of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said that bringing together Christian communities can be “a complicated, challenging and difficult” task. She recognized Bishop Zubik for his unifying efforts, adding, “Bishop David Zubik is a leader who believes with his heart and demonstrates with his actions that, as his episcopal motto states, nothing is impossible with God.”

Past St. Andrew’s Lecture presenters have included the late Duquesne University President John Murray; the late Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff; the Rev. George Werner, dean of Trinity Cathedral; and the Rev. Dr. David Esterline, president of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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