The first ten people to complete a certification course in Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations through Mount St. Mary’s College’s Ecclesia program were celebrated in a May 31 commencement ceremony.
In the “professional preparation in ministry” course — led by Father Alexei Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs — Ecclesia Program students met once a month (beginning last September) for seven hours, prepared for discussion on a wide range of topics. They included inter-denominational marriage, ecumenical dialogue, inter-faith encounter and discussion, the history of the Reformation and Christian progress since then, reflected in teachings from Church leaders and 20th century Vatican documents such as Ut Unum Sint and Nostra Aetate.
“I hope what we have been able to instill in you is what Pope Francis often refers to as a ‘Culture of Encounter,’” Father Smith told those receiving their certification. He urged program graduates and their guests gathered for the commencement ceremony to follow Pope Francis’ example by facilitating this encounter.
He also highlighted significant moments from the Holy Father’s recent visit to the Holy Land.
“We are living in historic times,” Father Smith said enthusiastically. “In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Pope Francis and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew prayed together. We may not think that is big, but in that part of the world, this is the first time that Christians of different traditions prayed together — on the very site that Christ died and rose from the dead — since the tragic split of the Church in 1054 between East and West.”
Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, MSMC president, recalled the original hopes of Pope John XXIII for the reconciliation of Christians when he announced an ecumenical council of the Universal Church — an address delivered to 17 Cardinals in the Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls on Jan. 25, 1959.
“John called upon all of the saints that day,” McElaney-Johnson said, “for ‘a good beginning, continuation and happy outcome of these proposals for a great work, enlightenment, edification, and happiness of all Christian people for a renewed invitation to the faithful of the separated communities that they also may follow us amiably in this search for unity and grace to which so many souls aspire in all parts of the Earth.’”
Ecclesia program organizer Gail Gresser, director of Campus Ministry at Mount St. Mary’s, announced plans to continue the course annually, and hoped to introduce a second level of preparation sometime in the next two years.
Certificate recipients in alphabetical order: Jennifer Wing Atencio, Christine Blair, Ana Maria Cape, Donald DeBenedictis, Laura Gomez, Julie Heath-Elliot, Anastasia Pologar, Jan Sooter, Michael Tupaz and Rafael Vega.