A bold new endorsement of stranger interchurch links

Shona McKay October 1 1984

A bold new endorsement of stranger interchurch links

Shona McKay October 1 1984

A bold new endorsement of stranger interchurch links

Shona McKay

Throughout his 12-day papal tour, John Paul’s presence was clearly a stirring event in the lives of Canada’s 11.2 million Roman Catholics. But many non-Catholic church leaders also studied the papal odyssey for indications of its impact on ecumenism, the movement that encourages co-operation and unity among all Christian churches.

They were not disappointed.

The Pope’s message encouraged both Protestant and Catholic advocates of closer church ties. Indeed, enthusiasts predicted palpable results in the shape of stronger joint ministries among native people and the disadvantaged at home and abroad. Said Archbishop Edward Scott, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada:

“The Pope provided real encouragement and support to the Canadian ecumenical movement.”

Father Thomas Ryan, director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal, also expressed a strong conviction that the papal visit will lend impetus to the ecumenical movement. Declared Ryan:

“He has given a second springtime to a movement that many considered to be dead.” The main source of enthusiasm was a pivotal private meeting, at the halfway point in the tour, between the Pope and 17 leaders of other churches at Cody Hall, an Anglican parish hall in midtown Toronto. There, participants said, the Pope displayed a readiness for discussion and understanding. The session was sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches, which Canada’s Catholic leaders have only recently expressed an interest in joining.

The closed Toronto meeting reinforced in direct dialogue the Pope’s positive public words about Christian unity.

In fact, John Paul was an advocate of interchurch links throughout his visit. On his arrival in Quebec he greeted all Canadian Christians before saluting members of his own church. The harmony theme was expressed in cymbals as well as symbols at Fiatrock, Nfld., where Patricia Young, leader of a Salvation Army band, nearly lost her balance trying to return a papal wave while she was conducting the players. The Pope reaffirmed his message in Moncton, N.B., where he declared, “God wills that his people should live with a single heart and soul.” And in Toronto, John Paul presided over an

ecumenical service at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

As well as Protestants and Catholics, the St. Paul’s congregation included Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus and Baha’is. But John Paul limited his message only to other Christians, overlooking other faiths. A similar omission occurred in Edmonton, where he later went out of his way to make amends. Said the Pope: “We are looking and working toward the unity of Christians, but we’re looking also to the

non-Christian religions, to all people who believe in God, who seek him as everyone here does.” In Toronto, citing “the ecumenical collaboration that has been taking place in Canada for a number of years,” the pontiff voiced his admiration for “the Christian spirit which has produced these generous efforts.” But the meeting that followed with prominent Protestants generated more excitement.

Seated in a circle, in an encounter that went 15 minutes beyond the allotted time of 45 minutes, John Paul heard presentations on the nature of interchurch unity, the need for the churches to work together on social reform projects, and the need for all people—women as well as men—to share fully in the ministry and authority of the church. The

nger interchurch links

religious leaders who attended the session said that the Pope was well briefed on the Canadian movement and that he showed a willingness to discuss areas of contention. Said Robert Smith, moderator of the United Church of Canada, who had expressed a cautious hope beforehand that the Pope would listen to the group’s concerns: “Although he did not directly respond to the issue of the ordination of women, which I raised, John Paul acknowledged the difficulty of the

question and asked for a copy of my manuscript. I came away feeling very high.” Added Scott: “Symbolically, this meeting was significant when you consider that, because of theological differences, it could not have taken place 20 years ago.” Christian leaders said that within the world’s ecumenical community, Canada is unique in the scale of joint efforts under way. Already there are more than 40 interchurch coalitions working in Canada and abroad. Made up of 13 member churches in the Canadian Council, in addition to the participating but nonmember Roman Catholic Church, the joint programs include Project North, which supports native

people in dealing with the development of the North. As well, through lobbying and education, the Project Ploughshares program promotes peace and disarmament and the Interchurch Committee on Human Rights in Latin America combats abuses of freedom. At the same time, the Taskforce on the Churches’ Corporate Responsibility raises questions with banks and corporations about the impact of their investments in countries with poor records on human rights.

The Pope’s affirmation of ecumenism was a positive signal to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization that applied last spring for associate membership in the council of churches. Declared Ryan: “More than anything else, the Pope was addressing the Roman Catholic community. His support of ecumenism is a call for action by everyone from the bishops to the parish priests.”

Still, some unity advocates tempered their enthusiasm by recalling past disappointments. Despite the workaday interchurch coalitions, there has been little real progress toward doctrinal Christian unity in Canada over the past 50 years. And many observers blame the Vatican for the sluggish pace. The ecumenical spirit sprang up among Roman Catholics in the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council, the conclave of Catholic leaders inspired by Pope John XXIII, who implored all Christians to “make an end of our divisions.” But since then, the movement has been hesitant to make any dramatic advancements. Said the United church’s Smith: “At the Vatican, the concern for Christian unity has not been a high prior| ity. And in Canada, although | we have a strong national sys5 tern, at the local level the various churches exist in splendid isolation.”

Many church leaders also contend that although John Paul actively promoted ecumenism, the Pope’s theology constitutes an underlying impediment to future church unity. Said Smith: “While I am astonished at the kind of progressive stances he takes on social justice, I see him as being curiously blind on other issues, including women and human sexuality.” Still other religious leaders questioned the ability of John Paul or the Catholic church to take practical steps toward unity. Said Scott: “John Paul has proven that he has a deep commitment to ecumenism. In Canada, he has set the pattern. The question now is, will he back his views by action?”