Welcome to all of you who are visiting the website for our secretariat at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our secretariat serves the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs which oversees seven ecumenical bilateral dialogues, two standing consultations with rabbinical associations, and three interreligious dialogues with the Muslim community here in the United States. In addition to these bilateral relationships, our Bishops work with teams of scholars and other Catholic representatives to support the efforts of multilateral exchanges such as the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Christian Churches (NCCC) and Christian Churches Together (CCT). At a time when many secular governments, as well as religious leadership, is recognizing the indispensable role that religion can play in peacefully resolving conflicts, the work of our Episcopal Conference in these arenas has a special urgency.
We invite you to peruse our website, which contains the latest press releases of our dialogues as well as study documents on a range of topics. The links to partner religious bodies and organizations allows for a comprehensive view of the ecumenical and interreligious landscape today. Our staff stands ready to assist you in any way we can on particular matters of research or pastoral application of the Catholic Church’s ecumenical and interreligious principles. Do not hesitate to call us if you think we can be of some help.
Each year the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches chooses a theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year, 2010, the theme is once again a biblical verse: You Are Witnesses of These Things. Based on Luke 24:48, these words of our Lord remind us of the originating impulse of the modern ecumenical movement, which began 100 years ago in Edinburgh Scotland. Representatives from the mission societies of different branches of Protestantism and Anglicanism, joined by an Orthodox guest, met during the summer of 1910 in the Scottish capital. It would be another half century before the Catholic Church joined the movement within the context of the reforms underway through the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Edinburgh Conference had as its principal aim the coordination of missionary work as a way of removing impediments to hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As today's witnesses to the unity that Christ wills for his flock (Jn 17:21), we Catholic ecumenists know that reconciliation within the Body of Christ is a stimulus to the work of bringing about peace and solidarity within the wider human family.
During 2010 scholars, clergy, and professional ecumenists are invited to meditate on the whole of chapter 24 of Luke's gospel. We can ponder the variety of responses to encountering the Risen Christ. With Mary Magdalene we can announce the gospel of hope to those who have locked themselves behind closed doors in fear of violence and injustice. With the two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can enter into the dialogue of truth that leads, in God's providence, to the full reconciliation among Christians that would allows us to receive together from the one Eucharistic table. With the eleven disciples, we can rejoice that God's paschal love proves victorious over the powers of sin and death that underlie our own ecclesial divisions, as well as those between peoples and nations. May this sustained meditation on Luke 24 help us to address new tensions and old divisions in a spirit of patience and mutual respect.
Bernard of Chartres famously said that “we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” As we in the USCCB’s secretariat look back on the generation that led the Catholic Church into the ecumenical movement, as well as into a period of reconciliation with the Jews and the followers of other religions, we can give thanks to God for their witness and fidelity to the will of Christ. As we engage new challenges in the moral and cultural spheres - which are no less arduous than those faced by our forbears who began on this journey more than a half century ago - we can draw strength from the “giants” who provide us with the peaceable, reconciling vision of Christ’s kingdom.
Father James Massa
[Father Massa is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and a graduate of Fordham University, where he earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1997.]