Many of you already know that ACT3 facilitated the recent Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical
dialogue. One of the participants, Fr. René Constanza, wrote a report of our meeting for the website of the Paulist Fathers. Fr. René’s clear and accurate repot follows. Continue to pray for the follow-up of this significant gathering. If you would like to help ACT3 cover the expenses from this event we are still about $3,500 below budget. (We paid for some to attend who could not otherwise have participated.) A video of the public meeting will soon be available on this site.
This gathering was held at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois on September 11-13, 2014. This was a gathering of 13 Catholic and 13 Evangelical Protestant leaders to discern ways in which the Lord is leading us to foster evangelization and His mission. This dialogue is part of the Lausanne Global Conversation—a catalyst in creating partnerships and alliances among Christian leaders committed to pray, plan, and work together in proclaiming the life-giving gospel in a contemporary and culturally appropriate manner.
The Lausanne Movement on World Evangelization takes its name from the first global congress of evangelical leaders in Lausanne, Switzerland in July, 1974. From an international congress to a working committee and now a movement, the Lausanne Movement is neither a church nor an alliance of churches but a movement under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Since its inception, the aim has been the continuation of the mission of Christ in our world through the primary means of proclamation of the Gospel, especially to those who have not heard about the person and works of Jesus Christ.
This year’s gathering at Mundelein started with a plenary meeting. Opened to the public, the meeting featured a bilingual conversation on the topic, “Pope Francis and Unity in Mission between Catholics and Evangelicals.” Leading the discussion were presentations by Dr. Norberto Saracco, a Pentecostal Pastor/Rector of Theological Institute (FIET), and Fr. Robert Barron, Rector of Mundelein Seminary and founder of Word on Fire.
Dr. Saracco spoke fervently of his personal friendship with Pope Francis which dates back to when the pope was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In his personal testimony of encounters with the then Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Dr. Saracco emphasized that for the pope the ecumenical endeavor is not a program but a work of the Holy Spirit who brings Christians together for prayer, fellowship and mission. He gave an example when he spoke of the first time that he met the Cardinal in 2001 (the year of the worst economic and social crisis in Argentina) at a gathering between the Evangelical National Council leaders and the Argentinean Catholic bishops. They came together to discuss religious equality. After the prayer service Cardinal Bergoglio addressed the gathering by saying, “We can’t be here discussing a project when our people are convulsing and desperate…. Let us plan to do something together by gathering our resources for the service of the people.” Dr. Sarraco pointed out that the Holy Spirit continues inviting Catholics and Evangelicals to find one another in prayer and in the mission of Jesus Christ. Dr. Saracco believes that this, without downplaying the ecclesiological, theological and doctrinal divisions, should be given priority over the unity of ecclesiastical institution.
In his address, Fr. Barron mentioned that Pope Francis’ outreach to Evangelicals as pointed out in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) is grounded in more substantial theological commitments. For instance, Pope Francis’ call for all Christians to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ does not undermine the importance of the Church, which for Fr. Barron the Catholic ecclesiology affirms as the “prolongation of the Incarnation across space and time, the mystical body of Jesus through which people come to an encounter with the Lord.” As such, Christians are called to be successful evangelists by bringing the joy of the proclamation of the gospel through “the splendor and radiance of their way of life, before he or she would get to explicit doctrine and moral commands.” He challenged all participants to move forward in making visible their witness in prayer and service, something which requires no compromise to their own theological convictions.
Keeping in mind the opening address by both Dr. Saracco and Fr. Barron, the Lausanne dialogue was animated by all participants sharing their personal testimonies of their work and passion for Christian unity. This year’s gathering was like an incubator of ideas and relationships that were prompted by the Holy Spirit to foster unity amidst their diversity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Participants felt encouraged to see Pope Francis as a model in building personal relationships with brothers and sisters in other Christian churches, in praying together in the Spirit of our Lord, and serving side by side the most needy and vulnerable in our communities. Doing so will not only make our unity in mission visible but also make credible the invitation for others to experience the joy that a life in Christ brings. All for the greater glory of God.
Rev. René Constanza, CSP, is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle (Paulist Fathers) and parochial vicar at St. Austin’s parish in the Diocese of Austin, Texas. Parish missions in the U.S. Hispanic context has opened his eyes to the need and importance of the ecumenical dimension of mission.