By Ann Carey
SOUTH BEND — “Blessed are the Peacemakers” was the theme of a day of reflection between Catholics and Mennonites at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend on Sept. 18.
At the prayer service that started the day, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who led the service, told the approximately 55 participants that he was pleased to find upon his recent arrival in this diocese that a Catholic-Mennonite dialogue was ongoing here. He said that many Mennonites and Amish live in his former Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., but Catholic-Mennonite relations were not as well established there.
After the 9 a.m. prayer service in the cathedral, the dialogue got underway in the St. Matthew School auditorium with opening talks on ecumenism by Bishop Rhoades and Marlene Kropf, an associate professor in Spiritual Formation and Worship at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart. Kropf is also the denominational minister of worship for the Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership and co-chair of the bi-national Mennonite Church Worship Council.
Kropf explained that Mennonites believe the church is “the bride of Christ, unblemished and pure.” Thus, for generations, Mennonites formed their own strong communities and lived their faith without getting involved with outside people or issues. This practice “was at great cost to the participants,” Kropf said, for “Sometimes we missed the vision of what God was doing in the wider world: God’s friend-making mission, God’s desire to unite all things in Christ.”
Mennonites developed “a kind of myopia” because they didn’t always recognize the face of Christ in neighbors, strangers and people of other faiths, Kropf said. That attitude changed as Mennonites began to work for peace with other churches and ecumenical organizations, she explained.
Today, Mennonites recognize that “The love of Christ joins unlikely people together into one family,” with Christ calling that Christian family to the same commitment to peace, she said. Kropf explained that this became most clear to her through her involvement with Bridgefolk, which, according to the organization’s Web site, is “a movement of sacramentally-minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions.”
“I believe God wants us to step inside each others’ homes and take the risk of intimate friendship,” Kropf concluded. “And I also believe that if our friendship brings us closer to Christ, that will be worth it, and that is our call.”
Bishop Rhoades told the group that “ecumenism is in my blood,” explaining that his father was Lutheran and his maternal grandfather was Greek Orthodox. As bishop, he said, he fully supports, appreciates and encourages Catholic-Mennonite common prayer, dialogue and growth in friendship.
The Roman Catholic teaching on ecumenism can be summarized under four points, Bishop Rhoades said. First, the Catholic Church is “irrevocably committed” to the cause of Christian unity; it is not optional because we believe it is the will of God.
“So, we see the quest for Christian unity as our duty, or responsibility before God,” Bishop Rhoades said.
Second, he continued, the Catholic Church teaches that prayer, as well as personal and communal conversion, are absolutely necessary in the ecumenical effort.
“The more faithful we are to the Gospel, the more converted, the more we will feel the summons to unity with all our brothers and sisters,” Bishop Rhoades explained.
The third and most challenging point is that of theology and doctrine, he continued: The Catholic Church holds that unity willed by God means adherence to the truth of the Gospel.
“Unity cannot be authentically attained by watering down the truths of the faith,” Bishop Rhoades said.
This is where dialogue comes in, he explained, to overcome division and lead us to unity. Ecumenical dialogue is marked by a common quest for truth, with the parties comparing different points of view and examining disagreements that impede our communion, he said.
The bishop’s fourth point was practical cooperation. We should not wait for full communion before acting together in our witness to the Gospel, Bishop Rhoades said: Groups can already work together on charitable projects and pro-life and peace activities. This cooperation also has a practical value, he said, for it is a sign that Christians are becoming more united.
“May our Catholic and Mennonite communities continue to grow in friendship and cooperation, thus bearing witness to Christ’s love here in northern Indiana,” Bishop Rhoades concluded.
Nancy Cavadini, ecumenical officer for this diocese and a member of St. Matthew Parish, spearheaded organization for the day of reflection. She is on the steering committee of Michiana Bridgefolk.
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