(Vatican Radio) Church leaders, theologians, ecumenists from the six continents and from all different denominations are gathered at Fairfield University in Connecticut this week for the third International Receptive Ecumenism conference. Their goal is to show how this particular method of strengthening relations and deepening dialogue between the different Christian churches and communities has brought new seeds of hope to what was once despairingly described as ‘the ecumenical winter.’ Philippa Hitchen is taking part in the four day meeting, and writes about her experience of the event:
Set on a grassy hillside just back from the Connecticut coastline, the 200 acre campus of this Jesuit-run university contains some striking modern statues and impressive water features. At the entrance to the modern chapel stand two larger than life size figures of St Ignatius of Loyola in black and white, facing each other and depicting the Examen of conscience which lies at the heart of Jesuit spirituality and action.
During the conference’s opening liturgy on Monday, the former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, Frank Griswold, spoke about the challenging task facing each one of our churches to open our minds and examine our hearts, as we try to fathom God’s will and rediscover the unity of the broken Body of Christ. Our job, he said, is not to create something new, but to clear away the obstacles that block our vision of unity, rather like clearing away dead leaves and debris that can block up a freely flowing stream.
In a message sent to the meeting, the head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, noted that Receptive Ecumenism provides us with a road map on our journey towards restored communion, helping to build on the fruitful formal dialogues that began half a century ago. The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who’ll be visiting the Vatican at the weekend, also sent greetings to the conference, describing ecumenism as “the oxygen of mission.” Receptive Ecumenism, he said, is not in competition with traditional methods of dialogue but instead can help each church uncover its weaknesses and realise that we all need the help of Christ who heals us through His own wounded hands.
Dipping our hands in water from the font to renew our baptismal promises, I thought of the winding stream and gushing spray of a fountain I’d seen set back from the path leading up to the chapel. How can all of us at this meeting work to clear away the debris of mistrust between our separated churches? And how can we use the strength of our own spiritual traditions to keep the steam of faith flowing strongly and clearly towards the ocean of God’s limitless love for us all? Watch this space for some creative ways of responding to those questions!