by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Looking at an issue or a decision through another optic or from a different perspective unfailingly offers new insights into the matter at hand. The famous “second opinion” medical decisions is the best example of this principle.
This phenomenon struck home in a recent article published in The Tablet, the prestigious British Catholic journal. Entitled “Journeying Together,” it reported in some detail on Learning on the Way, a recent ecumenical gathering sponsored by the Centre for Catholic Studies located in Durham University in the United Kingdom. Almost 140 participants from Anglican, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, United Reform and Pentecostal traditions joined with Catholic representatives in a synodal-type meeting to discuss what each tradition could learn from one another. (Curiously, several denominations were not included “for pragmatic reasons.”)
It would be impossible here to summarize the rich content of the discussions which were conducted in an entirely collegial (synodal) manner. However, some quotations cited in the Tablet serve as valuable “second looks” at what Pope Francis is attempting to achieve in Roman Catholicism and its enormous possibilities for the entire Christian world. For us U.S. Catholics, they offer a much-needed injection of enthusiasm for the synod in the Church here that appears lukewarm to this whole enterprise. (Compare the difference in emphasis, for example between synodal information and the annual bishops’ Lenten appeal.)
- Elaine Green from the Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations observed that Francis’s synod is a “gift to the world” and added that “no other Church could have embarked on this project.”
- Speakers from other denominations repeatedly described the current Catholic synodal process as “courageous.”
- Several others observed that “our” synod has the potential to spark similar listening processes in their own communions.
- An Anglican theologian said “I feel that we are in the most important moment since Vatican II.” (Notice how he speaks of these events as his/their own!)
- In that respect, a Pentecostal pastor told the Symposium that Pentecostals in Britain see Pope Francis as leader and “someone who speaks their language.”
The tone of the Symposium anticipated much of what Catholics can expect as Francis’s synod moves to its climax in 2023 and 2024. As one convener put it: the aim of the discussions at Durham was not to find answers but to outline “trajectories”(pathways, routes, steps). This objective would indicate not so much dramatic historical changes emerging from the Synod but new ways of understanding the actions of the Holy Spirit among us.
Another observer felt that the symposium underscored a crucial requirement for this new way of being Church. Namely that any structural change proposed and acted on must be deeply and clearly rooted in listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit – it is essentially a spiritual process.
Participants noted the presence of women in the leadership of every denomination – except the Catholic Church!
Reflecting on this remarkable event one cannot help but think that Francis’s synod has the potential to move not only the Latin Church but all other Christian denominations toward a common synodality. As Francis himself has put it, the synod is not about producing documents but an attempt to “plant dreams.” The article in the Tablet termed this objective as the People of God – both Catholic and other sisters and brothers – awakening hope for full Christian unity at the heart of the Church.
This “dream,” as Pope Francis well knows and experiences, begins to be realized “at the base” of our institutions – personal and parochiaL The history of Pax Christi exemplifies this: A bishop and a laywoman dreamt an impossible dream of peace in 1945 at the end of the horrific war between France and Germany.
Fast forward 78 years. Can we dream that Pax Christi can/should become an ecumenical movement? Jesus prayed for just such a possibility at his Last Supper: “That they all they may be one.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.