Rome: Day Five — More Conversations on Missional-Ecumenism

On Friday, March 11, I joined Deacon John Green, Deacon Nate Bacon and Jose Penata, for a conversation with Fr. Keith J. Pecklers, Keith is an American who was trained at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (CA) has been a professor in Rome since 1992. Dr. Pecklers describes himself, on his Facebook profile, as: “A Theologian, Liturgist, Faithful son of Vatican II, and a Jesuit.” He add that he is “an apostle of [the] liturgical renewal of Vatican II.” He teaches liturgy and ecumenism at the Pontifical Gregorian University, one of the best-known Vatican universities. He has written, contributed to, or edited nine books. His courses include:

  • Introduction to Liturgy
  • Liturgy and Ecumenism
  • A Seminar on Eucharistic Theology
  • The History of Liturgy in the West

photo (8) Keith is a Jesuit of the New York Province and serves as an "on air" expert in church affairs for ABC NEWS. Keith holds an MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute. He is founding president of the International Jungmann Society. In addition to numerous articles and reviews he has published five books the latest of which is entitled Worship (Continuum and Liturgical Press, 2003).

Dr. Pecklers warmly received us and discussed ecumenism with great passion and breadth of knowledge. He is deeply involved as a theologian in this ongoing dialog. He referred to two views of unity: “differentiated and visible.” If I understood him he believes that “visible unity” is always our primary goal. The danger of settling for “differentiated unity” is to settle for  something less than the type of real unity that brings us into real relationships with one another so that the world can actually see our oneness at work.

photo (18) We discussed Ut Unim Sint (That They May Be One) during this visit. This important document is one of the more famous papal encyclicals of Pope John Paul II, issued on May 25, 1995. Encyclicals are referred to by their "incipit" or their first few words, thus the Latin for the first words of the document are the title. The words are from the prayer of Jesus in John 17, a prayer that resides close to my own heart every day. This encyclical reiterated that the unity of the Roman Catholic Church, with the churches of Orthodoxy, is sui juris (essential). It was in this particular context that Pope John Paul II referred to Rome and Orthodoxy as “two lungs” of the one church. The document also urges further dialogue and unity with Protestant churches. Ut Unim Sint shows that the Roman Catholic Church is officially moving toward ever widening openness to unity. Ut Unim Sint has rightly become an important document for all serious dialog about unity, thus the ideas of this encyclical came up several times during our visit with Dr. Pecklers. 

While the Roman Catholic Church continues to see itself as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Christ himself, it recognizes that elements of salvation are found in other churches and that members of such churches are “separated brothers.” In the Second Vatican Council’s document on ecumenism, Lumen Gentium (8), the Council Fathers said the sole church of Christ "subsists in" (rather than "is identical with,” which is the post-Reformation stance) the Catholic Church:

Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.

This is why the Roman Catholic Church has, since the Second Vatican Council, reached out to various Christian bodies, seeking reconciliation to the greatest degree possible. Pecklers believes there is much more to be done and that most Catholics are not deeply involved in this issue of visible unity with non-Catholics, something he not only teaches but practices. (More about this later.)

cummins Dr. Pecklers shared with us his own intellectual journey to ecumenism. His study eventually took him back to the 19th century. But his experience actually took him to Berkeley and to the personal influence of Bishop John S. Cummings, now Bishop Emeritus of Oakland (CA).

Another aspect of our conversation was centered around Growing Together in Unity and Mission: Building on 40 Years of Anglican – Roman Catholic Dialogue. (This document comes from what is called ARCIC, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. This was established by Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI in 1967, shortly after Vatican II. It has been the pioneering venture in theological study between a historic Protestant Church and Rome.)

Fr. Pecklers is personally involved in ecumenical friendships like few of the Catholics I met in Rome. He is a part of the Caravita Community, which says of itself:

We welcome pilgrims from all faiths and all walks of life to join us in the celebration of our Catholic faith. On any Sunday, you can find an eclectic, international group of people from the far corners of the world. We especially welcome those who have in any way been estranged from the church or marginalized. Join us after Mass, for an aperitivo and interesting conversation, in the atrium of our historic and welcoming place of worship.

Caravita was where I spoke in the evening of Day Four (see my blog of yesterday, March 29). Here we were warmly welcomed by a number of different Catholics and experienced some Protestant friends in the audience who were in close relationship with these Catholics. Caravita describes its unique commitments in these words:

We come together for the Eucharist in English on Sundays and major holy days and generally have a reconciliation service during Advent and again during Lent. We are not a parish, but rather a multi-cultural community of sojourners who are based in Rome, but travel frequently. The majority of our community members have worked on several continents, often for decades. About half the community members are religious women and men from a variety of congregations, universities, and church organizations. We bring together, on any given Sunday, people from twenty different countries. As well as the Catholic members, we welcome a variety of fellow seekers from other faith communities who enrich our spiritual journey. These include sisters and brothers from other Christian traditions, including Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant as well as those of other religious traditions: Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu. Nearly all the community members are adults. In addition, each week we welcome many English-speaking visitors and pilgrims to Rome.

This rich tapestry of experience undergirded the conversation of Friday morning, March 11. Fr. Pecklers had to leave to get to a weekend retreat at the ecumenical Monastic Community of Bose, which began as the vision of Catholic layman in 1965 at Bose, a small town located in northern Italy on the border of France.

The Bose community has grown to number over eighty brothers and sisters of various Christian traditions, and receives thousands of visitors annually. One of the guests for this particular weekend was profile-johnson-todd Dr. Todd Johnson of Fuller Theological Seminary. Todd Johnson joined Fuller in 2005 and is a professor of worship, theology and the arts. He is the lead professor at Fuller in the new PhD concentration in Christian Worship (formerly Worship and Culture). I hope to find a way to make his acquaintance. I asked Fr. Pecklers to give him warm greetings from a fellow American ecumenist!

After our group left the Gregorian University we had a brief time for further conversation about what we had heard and experienced. This happened, in most cases, after each event. The hearts of each us were thus united in Christian love as we processed the way we heard and responded to each person that we met with in Rome.

In the evening of March 11 I had another wonderful encounter with ecumenism in practice. I will describe this lovely time tomorrow.

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