Many of you prayed for me and the twenty-four people who shared with me in our first ever Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation on the campus of Mundelein Seminary held last week, April 18-20. I begin today’s blog with a huge, heart-felt “thanks” to everyone who interceded for me, and this event, during recent days. Your prayer was truly important. I do believe that God did bless us with his presence.
We began this unique “first-ever” Lausanne meeting on Thursday, April 18, at 3:30 p.m. We faced a huge problem before we even began. Storms had begun to hit Chicago the day before creating major flooding throughout the region. This changed thousands of flights into Chicago for more than 24-hours, starting late on Wednesday evening and lasting all day through Thursday and into wee hours of Friday morning. Because of this huge storm center we began our meeting with about half of the people who had planned to attend. By the evening about twenty of our group were present and by the next day, at breakfast on Friday, we were all together minus only one person who could not come due to illness. When I saw the storms on Wednesday, and knew what would follow on Thursday, I wondered if we could still do this event. In the end the Lord granted us the grace to arrive, to meet and to build many new friendships. All the delays and problems actually seemed to make us sense the importance and urgency of our time more clear to us all.
One illustration of how God’s mercy worked out in the midst of the storm came from two people who attended from Austin, Texas. One is a young priest and the other a Protestant lay leader and global intercessor. These two men were traveling together but had never developed a deep friendship prior to coming to Chicago. They spent twelve hours together in the Austin Airport on Thursday. By the end of their long day they sent us an email saying that the spirit of “missional-ecumenism” had already begun in Austin, Texas, very early on Thursday morning. They have now returned to Texas as close friends with the potential for fruitful prayer and holy mission now manifestly increased. My simple observation is plain for all to see – when we spend time talking, listening, praying and thinking together God works in us to reveal Christ and thus create a deep and growing sense of our unity in Him. When we got an email from these two brothers after our public meeting on Thursday night Fr. Thomas Baima brought it forward for me to read aloud to the gathered audience, allowing us we all to rejoice in what God had begun in the storms. (These two Christian brothers arrived at midnight, got some good sleep and then entered fully into the meeting.)
Our group consisted of people from across many age segments. We had one Latin America evangelical leader from Buenos Aires, an evangelical pastor who is a personal friend of Pope Francis. He shared with us how Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had shared close fellowship and prayer with him, and several other evangelical leaders in Argentina, for well over a decade. His story of the man, and of his life and vision, moved us all very deeply. We then had an extended time of prayer for Pope Francis. At the end of this prayer time I was moved to tears as I realized that we were praying together, Catholic and Protestant, for the Bishop of Rome and doing so with deep love and tender affections. This time, in itself, was memorable beyond words!
On Thursday evening we had our one public event with the title: “Christ Our Center.” Fr. Edward Oakes presented a major paper and a response was provided by Dr. Hans Boersma, professor of theology in the J. I. Packer Chair of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. How fitting, I thought, that Fr. Oakes, a close friend to so many of those evangelicals who wrote the now famous ECT document (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) would speak on why Christ is central to everything, revealing the dangers of both relativism and absolutism, and then Dr. Hans Boersma would speak on two papal encyclicals showing their importance for evangelical Protestants. A response was then given by Fr. Robert Barron and myself. The entirety of this evening event was a great encouragement and the private meetings we shared on Friday-Saturday were marked by these presentations. This public event was videotaped and will be posted on the ACT3 Network website as soon as possible.
Friday was spent in building friendships and in considering some of our common objectives. This led to a discussion of the issues Christians face in the twenty-first century and to some possible solutions that mandate closer collaboration between Catholics and evangelical Protestants. By the afternoon it seemed that we hit our stride and the evidence of the Spirit’s presence seemed apparent to us all.
On Saturday we shared breakfast and a closing meeting before we all headed for home. We left feeling that this was the first of what should/would become other such meetings and that we had built trust rooted in love and friendship. We believe God will lead us in a direction that is not yet entirely clear but one that we desire to embrace and pursue. Our major goals for this meeting were fairly clear and simple:
- To exalt Christ together and to represent him as central to our common faith.
- To talk about our mutual concern for evangelization and mission.
- To see how we could learn from one another and also benefit from our clear differences without compromising our theological convictions.
- To pray and worship as a group.
- To share food and long blocks of time for fellowship. We did this over meals and with late night discussions in our residence hall.
When we left on Saturday there were special prayers, the laying of our hands on one brother who was leaving us to face a major trial and then a circle of prayer at the closing for power and grace to face the unique challenges of our personal lives. There were many holy hugs, promises of further personal conversation and great hopes expressed for more fellowship in the months to come. We tentatively plan to meet again in 2014. Pray for our Lausanne Committee as we seek the Lord and ask him to guide us into a greater sense of unity in Christ’s mission.
Tomorrow: Bullet Points from the Lausanne Dialogue