success stories

A Success Story in Ecumenism

Taken from a Catholic News Service Article

When Bishop Richard C. Hanifen of Colorado Springs heard that Christian evangelicals were proselytizing Catholic youths in his diocese who were attending public schools, his first thought was: "We aren't going to war over this."

Instead, Bishop Hanifen called a local rabbi friend, and the two of them formed an ecumenical group of religious leaders, including mainline Protestant ministers, evangelical pastors and heads of national religious organizations. The group began talking about that situation and other concerns in the city.

The following are excerpts from Bishop Hanifen’s talk:

"We've worked at being in friendship with one another because the command of Jesus first was love. We may disagree on approaches, issues and theologies, but always we come together in understanding and dialoguing. Our community has really benefited from this unity."

Ecumenism, defined as praying and acting together with other Christians, is necessary today but I am not sure "a lot of Catholics have bought into the ecumenical movement."

"Fear probably keeps us from doing so, but we're united more than we think, and there are things that we can share about our faith with our Protestant brothers and sisters, and things we can learn from them.”

The source of the call to ecumenism is the Vatican document "Redintegratio Unitatis."

The document states that "a change of heart" is necessary for true ecumenism to develop.

"The more we worship together ecumenically, the more we begin to understand what we can give to one another," Bishop Hanifen added that his diocesan staff was asked to organize a citywide ecumenical prayer service Sept. 12, the day after the terrorist attacks, because others recognized the ability of Catholics to do that.

The beauty and power of symbols is another element that can be shared.

"If you don't get symbols, you don't understand Catholics, how we express our faith through symbols is very important."

Catholics can learn and have learned from Protestants new respect and understanding of the role of Scripture in worship, along with fuller meaning of the role of the assembly in worship, including fellowship and hospitality.

And Catholics have learned about "fuller service of the parish to parishioners through its ministries to families, young people, the grieving, Bible studies and support groups.”

"This country has been a real leader in ecumenism -- we don't really see it in Europe. Americans love competition; they think it brings excellence. There is competition between Catholics and other Christian communities, and it does poke us up a bit to compare, and that's not all that bad."

Once Christians of different denominations discover how much there is to learn, they find that stereotypes about Catholics and Protestants are untrue.

For example, some Catholics think Protestants distrust or even hate Catholics, that dialogue should not exist, or that Protestants need to be brought "back to the fold." Some non-Catholics think Catholics' emphasis on religious statues is idolatry and that Mary should not be held in such high esteem.

Such criticisms often force Catholics to feel the need to defend their beliefs and, fearing that they will not be able to do so adequately, they avoid discourse.

"When we feel challenged, if we come back in a loving response, we have won the day because we're being genuine to what we believe.”

"True ecumenism must come out of a true understanding of the faith and an interior openness of one's heart. It's not an option; it's something we must do."