How fitting that Pope Benedict traveled on Friday evening from the Park East Synagogue to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on East 86th St. The visit to the Synagogue on the eve of Passover was an event added on to an already busy schedule. This visit surely reminded the assembled ecumenical leaders and all Christians that Christianity was born from Judaism. St. Joseph parish began in 1873 as a national parish to serve German immigrants. Again, fitting that Bavaria’s favorite son would pray and speak at this parish. As he entered the Church, the Holy Father greeting school children, and in a special way four infants in their mother’s arms. Inside, over 250 religious leaders from more than 10 Christian traditions applauded as he entered. Greeting the leaders, he began "Peace be with you." It was a prayer service, and his comments were in the form of a homily after the Scripture reading. Pope Benedict brought major themes of his pontificate to bear on the topic of ecumenism. In place of relativistic approach to doctrine, one linked to a secular ideology, there is need for "a common witness in a world losing its bearing." He cautioned against "so-called prophetic actions" not always consonant with Scripture and tradition. Without specifying them, they might well point to the disputed questions concerning homosexuality, and the role of women in Christian communities. He warned against disrupting the unity of Christianity by the introduction of some "local options." Reaffirming his emphasis upon tradition and continuity, he introduced the need for "diachronic communion," communion with the Church of every age. Noteworthy too was his referral, in accord with the church teaching of Dominus Jesus, to the other Christian traditions (excepting the Orthodox) as "communions" rather than as churches. The very fact that the ecumenical meeting was held not as a lecture, but in the context of a prayer service reinforced his conviction that faith and prayer must be at the heart of the ecumenical movement. One could see how strongly he sang (in English) the Lord’s prayer to the traditional Latin hymnology. At the end of the prayer service, a number of religious leaders were introduced to the Holy Father, from Eastern Orthodox churches, Greek Orthodox and Eastern Armenian, from main line Protestant denominations, and from evangelical and Pentecostal traditions. Most noteworthy was the introduction of Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Pope Benedict noted that "the contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt throughout the world." The meeting on this Friday evening clearly reflected the richness of Christianity in the United States and the challenges facing Christians on the path to unity. Peter Schineller, S.J.
Report from Papal Ecumenical Service