Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has sought to advance the cause of Christian unity more by concrete actions than by theological discussions. He is convinced that progress in the quest for unity among the various Christian denominations can be achieved by “walking, praying, and working together.”
Addressing representatives of the World Council of Churches in Geneva upon its 70th Anniversary last June, the pope said, “So let us ask ourselves: What can we do together? If a particular form of service is possible, why not plan and carry it out together, and thus start to experience a more intense fraternity in the exercise of concrete charity?” He added, “Let us see what we can do concretely, rather than be discouraged about what we cannot.”
We have a wonderful opportunity in Los Angeles to do precisely that! On the first day of the Annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year, Archbishop José H. Gomez, Episcopal Bishop John Taylor, and Lutheran Bishop R. Guy Erwin renewed “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” a Covenant between the three churches, signed by their predecessors, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Episcopal Bishop Frederick Borsch, and Lutheran Bishop J. Roger Anderson, 25 years ago.
The Covenant recognizes that by virtue of our common baptism, there exists a real but imperfect communion among our churches and that those things we share in faith and in our common scripture help us understand our common Christian identity. The Covenant points out that “historically, each tradition has developed many special gifts particular to themselves, e.g., liturgy, music, spirituality, to name a few. A process of offering and sharing them will enrich the ministry of the whole Body of Christ” and that “seminars and common prayer experiences are encouraged so that these gifts may be shared by all.”
The Covenant also encourages “working together in the common mission of evangelization and social justice as essential to gospel witness” and notes that each tradition “offers many courses for continuing education for their people. They are encouraged to share these resources with each other.”
I believe that by living the Covenant we will be enfleshing Pope Francis’ call for concrete actions to promote Christian unity. I hope to offer a one-day seminar on ways of implementing the Covenant at Mount Saint Mary’s University this summer. I would remind us all of Pope Francis’ words in “The Joy of the Gospel on Christian Unity:” “We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.”
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