Thursday, March 31, 2016

#BetterTogetherDay is April 7, 2016

The Power of the Resurrection in a Diverse World

The joy and hope of the Easter Season is with us in a very different world than the first disciples
experienced, and yet there are some interesting similarities as well. The world of the first disciples and the initial growth of Christianity was in a very culturally diverse, and religiously pluralistic world, much like today. In fact, the United States, like others, is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world.

The Christian movement initially probably began not from a single center but from many different centers where different groups of disciples of Jesus gathered and tried to make sense of what they had experienced with him and what had happened to him at the end of his public ministry.

Faiths Engaging with Each Other

Early Christianity, by moving into different realms of the different universes of thought and of religion in the Greco-Roman world, adopted a lot of concepts from other religions, lots of them religions of different varieties which enriched the early Christian movement tremendously.

This probably should encourage us to say that our discourse, not only inner Christian discourse with other denominations, but also our dialogue with other religions, with Jews, with Muslims, with Buddhists, and others is indeed very fruitful. In fact, our Catholic identity is strengthened when we engage meaningfully with those of other faiths or those who do not espouse any religious affiliation.

Interfaith Exchange Vital to Evangelization

At the time of Vatican II, it was Pope Paul VI who was the first to help us understand what it means to be Catholic in a diverse world that is changing rapidly before our very eyes. He says that the Church must be in dialogue with the world, if for no other reason than because God is in dialogue with us through Christ. 

In 1984, St. Pope John Paul II reflected that interfaith dialogue is fundamental for the Church, based on the very life of the triune God, as well as on respect and love for every human person.
"As far as the local churches are concerned, they must commit themselves in this direction, helping all the faithful to respect and esteem the values, traditions, and convictions of other believers."


Thanks to Interfaith Youth Core, we have Better Together Day on April 7, thousands of people across the country will be working to promote interfaith literacy through interfaith discussions, events, and acts of service. This literacy isn’t just an understanding of religious facts and texts. It’s an understanding of how different people live their beliefs and values and how those values influence the common good.

Want to help promote interfaith literacy? Submit a quote, verse, or personal value to our website about why interfaith cooperation is important to you. When 5,000 people participate, $10,000 will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, an organization dedicated to supporting refugees from Syria and other war-torn areas.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï distributes Communion at Mass for Migrants and Refugees at the Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Beirut.
With the plight of refugees out of the news cycle, we thought we would share what our bishops are doing in this area. Bishop Cantu and Mr. Stephen Colecchi shared their visit to refugee centers. Please pray for justice for all refugees.

A poster with the message, “Now is the time for Peace,” greeted bishops from Europe, South Africa,
Canada and the United States when they arrived in Jordan for a solidarity visit. The “peace now” theme permeated meetings with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces represented the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the meetings in Jordan. Then the Bishop and I went on to Lebanon to meet with the local Church and more refugees.  The situation in both Jordan and Lebanon is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

In Jordan, we learned that they are hosting about 1 million Syrian refugees and 60,000 Iraqi refugees. This is a heavy burden for relatively small country of modest means with about 7 million people.

In Lebanon, the statistics are even more startling. With a native population of only 4.5 million, Lebanon is hosting about 2 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but also some Iraqis.  That would be the equivalent of the United States taking in some 140 million refugees over five years!  We are scheduled to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, not exactly our fair share.

But statistics only tell part of the story of the suffering that war, violence and persecution have brought to the region. Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon are doing amazing work assisting both refugees and local people.  With the support of Catholic Relief Services and others, they serve Muslims and Christians.  It makes you proud to be Catholic.  They enabled us to meet with refugees, to hear their stories.

An Iraqi Christian family told us they had good relations with their Muslim neighbors before they fled the Nineveh plains in the wake of so-called Islamic State. They found refuge in Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, and now Jordan.  They hope to be resettled in a country of refuge.  They cannot contemplate going back to Iraq.

We also met a woman who had fled Mosul. Her family left in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs.  She, a teacher and her husband is a hospital worker, escaped with their three daughters, ages 28 to 24.  It took them ten tense hours at night in constant fear to reach nearby Erbil. Protecting their daughters from being raped or kidnapped was a challenge.  They witnessed killings and saw young women who were taken hostage as they fled.

Another woman reported that her father was kidnapped in Syria because Christians are being persecuted. When her brother reported the kidnapping he was put in jail for two days.

Refugees struggle in Lebanon where everything is expensive. One man said he works long hours but barely makes enough for them to live in Lebanon.  Life was better in Syria.  They want to go to Australia where they have been accepted, but their UN file is not moving.  A mother reported that her children only get milk once a day.  She is willing to go back to Syria if the situation improves because her son needs medical assistance.  Originally, they thought they’d be in Lebanon for two months.  It has been years.

These encounters and many others give a face to the statistics. There are lives and families behind the numbers.  At these and many other encounters, Bishop Cantú assured the refugees that they are not forgotten.  And he affirmed what we heard time and time again, “Now is the time for peace.”  For only peace can alleviate the refugee crisis.  I hope all sides realize that at the peace talks in Geneva.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Read Archbishop Kurtz’s statement regarding refugees fleeing Syria.

Learn about the work of Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB in resettling an supporting refugees in the United States.

Join Catholics Confront Global Poverty, an initiative of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, in advocating to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people worldwide.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Believers and Non-Believers, We Are All Brothers and Sisters

The end of the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines
Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

In these days several important international events are converging together with a common thread of wisdom for our hyper-differentiated world we live in, where the more diverse we become, the more divided we become.

Three Roads, One Path

Recently, at the end of the International Eucharist Congress Pope Francis provided a video message
for the members of that illustrious gathering. Pope Francis urged Catholics in Asia to commit to "respectful dialogue" with followers of other religions. "This prophetic witness most often takes place, as we know, through the dialogue of life," Pope Francis told more than 1 million people, including some 12,500 delegates from 73 countries, who attended the week-long international gathering. Through the "testimony of lives transformed by God's love," Catholics best proclaim the promise of "reconciliation, justice and unity for the human family," he said. "We are called to bring the bond of God's merciful love to the whole humanity," said Pope Francis, adding that every Catholic is called to bring the good news of Christ's "redemptive love to a world in such need of reconciliation, justice and peace."

February 2 also marked the end of the Year of Consecrated Life, where the Church focused this past year on the urgency of religious, or consecrated life in the world today as an important way the Lord answers the deep, ardent longings of humanity through the myriad of religious charisms. Pope Francis on called on consecrated men and women to make courageous and prophetic choices, to not be afraid of getting their hands dirty and of walking the geographical and existential peripheries of humanity today. In this we can see the beginning of consecrated life. Consecrated men and women are called first and foremost to be men and women of encounter.  Those who really meet Jesus cannot stay the same as before. He is the novelty that makes all things new. He who lives this meeting becomes a witness and makes the meeting possible for others; he also becomes a promoter of the culture of encounter, avoiding a self-referential attitude that causes one to remain closed within oneself.

These two events recently underlines a consistent concern of Pope Francis. In a 2004 interview he asserts: “We’re all brothers and sisters. Believers, non-believers or whether belonging to this or that religious confession, Jews, Muslims… we’re all brothers and sisters! Human beings are at the center of history and this for me is really important: humans are at the center (of society). In this moment of history, humans have been pushed away from the center, they have slid towards the margins and at the center --- at least right now --- there’s power, money and we must work on behalf of human beings, for men and women who are the image of God.”

Finally, the first week of February of each year since 2010 marks Interfaith Harmony Week. The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative. This initiative, which started in 2007, called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common fundamental religious Commandments; Love of God, and Love of the Neighbor, without nevertheless compromising any of their own religious tenets. The Two commandments are at the heart of the three Monotheistic religions and therefore provide the most solid theological ground possible. It is also at the heart of the conviction of our secular brothers and sisters.

The Lenten Invitation

Forgiveness, mercy and compassion first offered to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the end game, but a doorway by which it is up to us to open and pass through. Forgiveness leads us to restoration and a healing of the fragmentation of our hearts, our families, our communities, and the world around us. Forgiveness mends, and bonds our disarray. Forgiveness leads us to the courage to change our thoughts and actions of division to communion. 

Lent can be an opportunity to profoundly enter into the dialogue of life that God initiated with us and that we in turn engage with others. Crossing lines of faith and non-faith,  culture, and creed is not about compromising our own faith, but engaging in a larger dialogue where our faith is a significant voice that must learn and share with others. Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, Humanist, and all the labels we bear that do more to divide than unite are all voices that belong together. The healing of divisions through the mercy of Christ is about understanding profoundly that our solidarity with all of humanity is forged through the blood of the cross; it is a "marriage" made in heaven.

We thus invite you to consider how you can engage with others of faith and non-faith in your communities and on line. Here is one suggestion. Interfaith Youth Core is helping us to do this through the power of social media. 

 Ideas matter. Ideas really, really matter. The problem is that some ideas are harmful. Recently, it feels like the voices of religious intolerance are everywhere in our politics and media. The story they’re telling is one of discord and division. It’s a story of a 21st century where suspicion and hostility is the norm. That’s the story right now. It sucks and it’s time to change it.

This Lent, let's change the story. Imagine the ways that interfaith cooperation can change the world for the better. Create a story or message - a simple picture, short essay, video, song, or something else - to inspire others. Then share it with the interfaith movement on our website and on social media using the hashtag #ChangeTheStory.

Here’s what you can do:

  • One interaction has the power to change a life, an opinion, or a worldview. Share a personal story about how an interaction with someone of a different religious or philosophical background changed your life, thinking, or action in a positive way.
  • The world has problems and interfaith can be a solution. Share your examples of how different traditions can work together to solve our most urgent problems.
  • No matter where you are, we promise that someone near you doesn’t feel like they can be their whole self because of their religious identity. Stand with them and share your message of support.
  • The voices of intolerance might be loud right now, but messages of positive change have real power to inspire others towards solutions. That’s a big deal. We’re asking you to get involved. You (yeah, YOU) have the power to stand against intolerance. You can help #ChangeTheStory.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Courage to Proclaim The Diversity of God's Kingdom in a Fearful World

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

On Sunday January 10, in the chilly air of central New Jersey with sisters Jennifer and Carolyn Herring, we visited the historic Muslim community in Old Bridge, New Jersey.

We tried to represent the work of Groundwell in a growing atmosphere of anti-Muslim sentiment and to show our support and solidarity with Muslim communities nationwide. We came to deliver a letter with more than 24,000 signatures to assert our fraternal unity, that as we have many differences, our common values and culture demand we stand against hate that divides our communities and nation. The letter we brought and read to them states this:
"America is not America without Muslims. As people of faith and moral conscience, we promise to defend our Muslim brothers and sisters from attack, to speak up when they are maligned, and to support them with our voices, our actions, and our bodies.
Why is this important?
In the famous words of German anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Today, they are coming for Muslim Americans. And when they come for any member of our community, they come for all of us.
As we watch the rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in our nation, as we listen to preposterous hate speech and rhetoric from political candidates -- particularly Mr. Trump -- our hearts are cracked wide open.
Even more alarming than the rantings of a single politician are the thousands cheering on bigotry.
People are afraid and concerned for their safety. However, responding to fear with hatred diminishes us all - both in spirit and safety. We must not allow fear to undermine the values that stand at the very core of who we are as faith leaders and Americans.
Every time there is a surge in anti-Muslim speech, there is a corresponding spike in acts of hate and acts of violence against Americans who are Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian.
You are our neighbors and our doctors, our local merchants and our school board presidents. We know you as restaurant owners and soccer coaches, as policewomen and public officials. We know you as mothers and fathers and caregivers, and as allies and colleagues in movements for justice. You are us.
We know you as our brothers and our sisters. America is not America without you.
We are speaking out, and we have your back, friends. We commit to building a circle of protection around you; we are standing with you.
We love you, and we pledge to show our love in every corner of our lives. May we walk hand in hand into a future where racism, hate, and violence are relics of the past, where differences are celebrated, and our children inherit our joy.
نحن نقف بجانبكم (We stand by you.) | نحن نساندكم (We support you.)"

 The Catholic Commitment to Interfaith Solidarity

Catholic commitment to interfaith solidarity goes back particularly to Vatican II (ad gentes). Since then our desire to connect meaningfully with our non-Christian friends has deepened enormously and our sense of evangelization can now not be separated from dialogue with those of other faiths. I would say that this is true in particular with Judaism and with Islam. Although it does not diminish our commitment to others.

Pope Francis reminds us: "An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions, in spite of various obstacles and difficulties, especially forms of fundamentalism on both sides. Inter-religious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities. This dialogue is in first place a conversation about human existence or simply, as the bishops of India have put it, a matter of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows”.[194]

In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation." #250, The Joy of the Gospel.

Confronting "Islamaphobia" and Religious Hate Today

Bishop Denis Madden, chairperson of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the US Catholic Bishops reminds us in recent times:  "The quest for understanding, friendship and peace must also take place in our communities and in our parishes. In July (2014), Newsweek reported that Islamophobia in America is on the rise. This is tragic, especially since one lesson we should take from these recent horrors is the danger posed to the whole human family whenever any minority, religious or otherwise, is perceived as an evil or a threat. It’s crucial that Catholics understand and espouse what was articulated at the Second Vatican Council and reiterated by popes ever since, our respect and affection for our Muslim brothers and sisters."

Islamophobia is defined as an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life (Gallup Poll Study) Unfortunately, blatant stereotyping, religious prejudice and misinformation about our Muslim friends and others (Sikhs are often mistaken as Muslim and are often victims of hate crimes) is not random. There is a national network with efforts to foster this fear through broad based funding and high profile individuals who receive a great deal of media attention. The US Catholic Bishops remind us of how we are to respond as Catholics: "Our response to evil and violence cannot be fear of others. Fear destroys everything it touches. By continually strengthening relationships with those of differing cultural, social and religious heritage, fear is overcome."

Three Steps Toward Healing Division

The preface of the second Eucharistic prayer for reconciliation bears a profound sentiment for our times: 
For though the human race is divided by dissension and discord, yet we know that by testing us, you change our hearts to prepare them for reconciliation. Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together.
For Catholics we hold an indispensable opportunity to show the true colors of our gospel mandate and provide a balm of healing to a gaping wound in our national and international community, to be the reach of the Spirit to move human hearts, beginning with our own. May we suggest three things:

  • Get acquainted with our Catholic tradition on dialogue and cooperation: What does it mean to be a Catholic in a multi-religious world? Particularly since Vatican II, and more importantly, since St. Pope Paul II, there is an enormous resource to help us understand the answer to this question. Check out our resources on our website>
  • The essential interfaith literacy: If our concern is mitigating stereotypical thinking and countering misinformation, we then need to find a way to understand something of what others actually believe, and in particular, the belief of Islam. Fr. Francis Clooney, SJ published a series of articles in America Magazine during this past Advent that emphasized the need for Catholics to understand Islam better, and practical ways that may happen. There are many other ways and more recently there has been a proliferation in new resources for non-muslims to understand Islam. Here is one.
  • Meet our Muslim neighbors and colleagues: There are lots of resources to assist the coming together of Muslims and non-muslims in many settings, both in real time and on line. There are opportunities to join in on special programs where Muslims, Catholics, and others can collaborate together, based on common faith and human values, in order to transform a culture of hate to a culture of dialogue, understanding, and acceptance. One such project is the Muslim Catholic Initiative through the Interfaith Center of New York City. Check out the possibilities close to you!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Connecting the Dots: The Religious Challenge Submerged in Global Climate Change

"Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters in a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each...and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth. Pope Francis," Laudato Si (2015)

Where is God?

This is the question I ask as millions across the globe raise their voices in the disastrous effects of climate change on those who have no recourse on adjusting to climate change. I worked in the Philippines for 13 years and saw first hand how warming oceans create bigger storms, acidified oceans curtail fishing, air pollution that kills many asthma sufferers, rising oceans that displace those with little place else to go. We are connecting the dots from climate change to exasperated poverty and even war and terrorism is fostered through these forces which show no sign of let up.

Pope Francis is also helping us connect the dots between the faith, the presence of God, our role in salvation, and the complexities of ecological crisis. As important as science is in this great challenge, it is not the only way to interpret this crisis. Pope Francis speaks of the role of faith, the cultural richness of humanity, art, poetry, the interior life, and spirituality. The conversation of faith and reason, science and theology bring new vigor to the answers we all seek. Pope Francis says that the Church wants this to occur.

An extraordinary book by Diana Butler Bass called Grounded: Finding God in the World, has been my companion this Advent. The rising hope of the prophets in these weeks of Advent, and the birth of the Savior in the nitty gritty of life is all about finding the mysterious and ineffable power of God in the world, the stuff of life we live and breath everyday.

The Breath of God

The very creation of the world that evolved over billions of years is about the Creator that continues
to create through the movement of stars, planets, and tectonic plates in the earth. The science that helps us understand the evolution over billions of years is the very hand of God.

Diana emphasizes this point in her sense of the breath of God. "After 2.3 billion years ago, ancient organisms called cyanobacteria appeared on the earth. They survived on photosynthesis, using energy from the sun to produce oxygen. Oceans became saturated with this oxygen and escaped into the atmosphere, and thus the air we breath today came into being. Scientists call this the Great Oxygenation Event. We call it "the breath of God."

In the second verse of the book of Genesis it reads,"The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters."At each stage of creation, God breathes new life in the world. God is literally the air by which all human life depends. (Bass, Chapter 3)

Connecting the Dots between Faith and Science

On November 28-29, 2015 in Coatbridge, Scotland, we gathered with the Xaverian Missionaries at Conforti Institute in a project we are both working on called Common Ground. We began this program in November 2013 where we gathered with religious believers of different traditions, and atheists and humanists interested in dialogue in order to find the common ground we all stand on. In this past conference in Coatbridge, our common ground was global climate change, or what Pope Francis called care for our common home. 

Although humanists see the reasons for the evolution of life to be different from those of religious believers, what we do hold in common is the science we rely on today to understand creation. Catholics, for example, are at liberty to believe that creation took a few days or a much longer period, according to how they see the evidence, and subject to any future judgment of the Church (Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical Humani Generis 36–37). They need not be hostile to modern cosmology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "[M]any scientific studies . . . have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life forms, and the appearance of man. These studies invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator" (CCC 283)

During the conference we shared from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Humanist perspectives why we need to strengthen our resolve to reverse ecological disaster for the sake of humanity and the planet we share. What we attempted to show is what Pope Francis shared, it takes all of us, religious and non-religious neighbors to halt the tide of destruction. The encyclical of Pope Francis on care for our common home was written for a worldwide audience, not merely Catholic or religious in order to underline that point.

Science and faith can help each other root ourselves in a new way we envision the world, humanity, and our vital link to the Lord of Creation. A great cultural, spiritual, and educational stands before us as we look toward a new lifestyle, a more profound and honest relationship between humanity and the environment, and an ecological conversion. (Pope Francis, Laudato Si 201-204)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jubilee of Mercy for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims

Opening the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica and the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis also hopes to open a year of "fervent dialogue" among Christians, Muslims and Jews, so that all who profess faith in a merciful God may be stronger in showing mercy toward one another.

The opening of the special jubilee year just a month after the terrorist attacks in Paris and at a time of continuing strife in the Holy Land and around the Middle East shows the size of the challenge facing those committed to interreligious dialogue, but it equally shows the need.

In his official proclamation of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis noted that the Christian profession of faith in God's mercy "relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God's most important attributes."

He prayed that the jubilee would "open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination."

The Pope goes on to say: "There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes. Israel was the first to receive this revelation which continues in history as the source of an inexhaustible  richness meant to be shared with all mankind. As we have seen, the pages of the Old Testament are steeped in mercy, because they narrate the works that the Lord performed in favour of his people at the most trying moments of their history. Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are “Merciful and Kind”. This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness. They too believe that no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open. " #23 Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy 

Friday, November 13, 2015

On the Way: Lutheran and Catholic Churches Come Closer Together

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Catholic Church released a very important document entitled: Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist. The heart of the Declaration is the Statement of Agreements. On church, ministry and Eucharist, the Declaration draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them. An elaboration of these agreements grounds them in the dialogues' work. Finally, a more tentative section identifies some "remaining differences" – not intending to be comprehensive but suggesting some ways forward. We would like to share with you the reflection of Bishop Denis Maden who has been working tirelessly in ecumenism.

A few days ago the Catholic-Lutheran ‘Declaration on the Way’ to Unity was released in Chicago and Washington by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops respectively.

My first feeling on this long-awaited occasion is gratitude to God. Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that all his followers may be one [John 17:21]. St. Paul continually sought unity in the Christian communities [e.g. 1 Cor 1:10-11; Ephesians 4: 1-3]. I am most appreciative of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our work over the last three years. We prayed regularly for this guidance.

I am grateful for the thousands if not millions of Lutherans and Catholics internationally who work together quietly to feed the hungry, to help displaced families, and to serve their communities in so many other ways. Their example of Gospel living and of practical unity inspires the dialogues.

I am grateful to all those who worked so diligently and thoroughly on Catholic-Lutheran dialogues internationally and in various countries during the last 50 years. It is their hard work that we synthesized in this document.

As a Catholic, I am grateful for the Decree on Ecumenism [1964] of the Second Vatican Council that initiated pastoral collaboration and theological dialogues. I am most appreciative of the continual support of Saint John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. I often think of Pope John Paul II’s magnificent encyclical on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint [1995] and especially on its discussion of the deep spiritual roots of ecumenism.

Let me encourage all of you who read the document to begin with a time of prayer. Prayer is the appropriate context for seeking the guidance of the Spirit before reading the text.

I encourage a careful reading of the text. Our Task Force spent many meetings poring over the precise wording so that we could be as accurate as possible. The cumulative force of the agreements is amazing. I did not expect so much agreement by so many dialogues on so many issues.

I did experience some challenges. I grew up in the Bronx before the Second Vatican Council. Our overall relationship with Protestants was still one of conflict. Though, in our neighborhood we got along. I still have some ‘flashbacks’ to those days and occasionally encounter inappropriate negative feelings. Perhaps you will too.

The Declaration on the Way challenged me to deeper understanding and balance. The generous and patient service of my colleagues on the Task Force challenged me to live the Gospel more fully.

I find that ecumenical encounters are a road to spiritual maturity. I hope and pray that all who study this Declaration will too.