On Monday, February 9, St. Procopius Abbey (Lisle, IL) hosted a wonderful evening gathering dedicated to Catholic-Evangelical ecumenism. Several hundred guests, representing scores of Catholic and Protestant parishes throughout the Chicago area, gathered to listen to two long-time friends engage in a ninety-minute conversation about Christian unity. Taking their cue from the current actions, and written initiatives, of Pope Francis the two conversation partners addressed the possibilities and problems inherent in this new ecumenism. The Very Rev. Dr. Robert Barron, Rector/President of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. John H. Armstrong, a Reformed Church minister and adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College. Dr Armstrong also serves as the founder and president of the ACT3 Network in nearby Carol Stream, Illinois, who sponsored the event. Both Fr. Barron and Rev. Armstrong shared personal stories and answered questions. The dialogue was moderated by Rev. Dr. Chris Castaldo, Lead Pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville. Dr. Castaldo also moderated the Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue between Dr. Armstrong and Francis Cardinal George, hosted by Wheaton College in March of 2012.
Fr. Barron and Rev. Armstrong have done five previous public dialogues of this type, all in college and university settings in the greater Chicago area. Each dialogue has sought to explore our common faith, as well as our remaining significant differences, both for the purpose of bearing faithful witness to Christ our Lord. This event had the same purpose. Both speakers gave short opening statements. Dr. Armstrong focused on Saint Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint (On Commitment to Ecumenism) by drawing attention to the sections on the value of dialogue, especially section 40, on “Practical Cooperation.” He urged deeper relational friendships to the end that we explore “a dynamic road to unity [through] unity of action [that] leads to the full unity of faith.” Fr. Barron cited Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) which says, “I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” Fr. Barron stressed that we have clearly made common cause for many wonderful acts of mercy and education that we share together but we have more work to do if we would draw greater strength from one another. After Dr. Castaldo asked both speakers several questions a microphone was opened to the guests at the Abbey to ask questions. A number of great questions and responses followed over the next 50 minutes.
This event was sponsored by ACT3 Network, a mission dedicated to “empowering leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission” and hosted by the Abbey. It was a first for ACT3 to work with the Abbey in ecumenism but is not hopefully the last such endeavor. Almost 200 people enjoyed the evening and left into the cold night air filled with joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A short documentary was filmed about the event as well as a full-length video that is in production stage. Both video presentations will be available at www.act3network.com.