…With One Another

August 2nd, 2012 8:49 am

On the evening of Monday June 11th I overheard a priest from North America, using some basic Spanish, ask a priest from South America if he wanted to join him and his fellow pilgrims at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland for a meal. I, along with five other young Roman Catholics, had been walking since early that morning. At that moment, we were returning to the very place we had set out from eight hours before—the residence of the Poor Clares, an enclosed order of nuns. They welcomed us to their morning prayer and gave us their blessing as we set out to visit and learn from church leaders of other Christian traditions.

The graciousness of the many non-Roman Catholic church leaders we met was striking. Each and every one of the houses of worship we visited—Methodist, Romanian Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Quaker and the TCD Ecumenical Chaplaincy—extended warm hospitality to us. They all recognized the significance of the Congress for us as Catholics and it left me wondering if we, as catholic Catholics, would be as mindful of their own denominational gatherings.

As the day passed, our group grew both in numbers and in familiarity. Together, we noticed a pattern emerging. While each of the churches we visited has a distinct approach to their faith, we could see that the building and sustaining of human community is not just common, but central, to all of them. These churches may draw upon diverse histories, but the act of human beings coming together to share common experiences yields the same strong bonds –bonds which sustain community.

At St. Anne’s Church, a Church of Ireland church on Dublin’s Dawson Street, our group sat down to break bread with Christians from other traditions. We began our lunch with a shared grace. The wording of this prayer, chosen and shared by a Catholic member of our group, left me with my most vivid, and inspiring, memory of the day. To sit together and pray for God’s healing grace as we encounter the scandal of the division of Christian traditions was moving.

The meal we shared that day was a simple act of demonstrating communion with one another. Leaders at each of the houses of worship we visited spoke of the importance of breaking bread together. Of course, one meal, though significant, is not enough to build meaningful community. The transformative power of communion with one another emerges from regular sharing of common experiences. Still, our meal together served as a catalyst to spur a question that members of our group later asked openly: If the 25,000 Roman Catholics present at the Congress had a regular, perhaps weekly, opportunity to dine with Christians from other traditions, how would such experiences feed into the Christian prophesy that “we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51)?

All week at the Congress participants discussed a vast array of different topics stemming from the week’s theme: “Communion with Christ and with One Another” The brief encounter we witnessed at the end of our walk – that of a priest from one part of the world inviting a stranger to break bread with him and his brothers — highlighted one of the richest observations one could take away from the Congress:  that diversity exists even within our Catholic tradition.

It was all the more moving, then, to be reminded of the profound importance of the unity we, as Catholics, share in the Eucharist at the daily open-air mass celebrated at the Congress. This shared celebration is a manifestation of both our desire to stand in communion with Jesus Christ, but also in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over the world.

The fact that MAGIS-Ireland, the Irish Jesuit Young Adult ministry, took the time to organize this ecumenical pilgrimage gave our small group the opportunity to bear witness to our brothers and sisters in Dublin who, in their own ways, all acknowledge the transformative power of community with one another. Perhaps even more importantly, it was, for leaders of other churches, a visible sign of the yearning some Catholics have for greater unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Of course there are a great many deeply important and delicate issues to be discussed before Christians can fully unite as one body in Christ. Matters as sensitive as this should not be rushed and participants in dialogue should take time to address relevant topics with appropriate care. However, our pilgrimage revealed that dialogue, on its own, may not be sufficient. Breaking bread together, journeying together and praying together are all opportunities to gain authentic insights into our shared understandings and different interpretations as to how God’s will might be done on Earth. That human beings are capable of being transformed by participation in such acts is a gift from God.

One of the most beautiful concepts, central to our tradition, is the catholicity of the Church. The universality of God’s love is a galvanizing idea – a message that gives us hope, even in these times where publically stating your faith, regardless of your tradition, may draw indifference or even scorn. There is so much that we, as Catholics who believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, can learn from our brothers and sisters in other traditions. This ecumenical pilgrimage illuminated ways in which we can strengthen our communion with Christ and with one another. It’s as simple, and as profound, as sharing a meal.

is from SCM Ireland and has attended the International Eucharistic Congress in June 2012. 

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