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Priest says Christian churches have grown closer in 50 years of dialogue

29 Jan 2019 – By Beth Griffin

GARRISON, N.Y. (CNS) — From a Catholic perspective, Christian churches and denominations are closer than ever after 50 years of ecumenical engagement and dialogue, even if the overall picture of Christian unity today may look sad, as doctrinal disagreements lead to more schisms.

This was Atonement Father James Loughran’s message at a Jan. 25 prayer service in Garrison.

The priest, who is director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, preached at one of eight ecumenical prayer services held to mark the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“Building up relationships across denominational lines is vital if we are to grow with ecumenical hearts and not only ecumenical heads,” he said. “If we love one another, we have to be able to appreciate diversity.”

Dialogue continues between the Catholic Church and leaders of the Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist churches and other denominations, he said.

“Enthusiasm for ecumenism is not as vigorous in the United States as it was 40 years ago when it was new and exciting,” Father Loughran told Catholic News Service. He attributed this to the slow nature of the process and a lack of trust in God.

“We don’t depend on God for the ecumenical movement as we should. It’s a sin of rupture that divides us, not a grace,” Father Loughran said.

“Anybody who is a believer is striving for a relationship with God. We can only comprehend if we get to know one another,” he said.

The prayer service at Graymoor, the headquarters of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, was part of the worldwide observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week is a collaborative effort of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Since 1968, the two groups have met to choose a theme and prepare texts and resources for the observance. The theme for 2019 is “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue,” from Chapter 16, Verse 2, of the Book of Deuteronomy.

The Week of Prayer began as an octave of prayer, sermons and conferences encouraged by Pope Leo XIII and Anglican leaders.

The event was celebrated for the first time in January 1908 at Graymoor by Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, the Episcopal co-founders of the Society of the Atonement.

In 1909, the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement and 13 of their lay associates were received into the Catholic Church. The Atonement priests, sisters and brothers work for reconciliation and healing through the unity of men and women with God and one another, in fulfillment of the mandate from the Gospel of John: “That they all may be one.”

According to Father Loughran, Father Wattson — who has been given the title “servant of God” because his canonization cause has been opened — was inspired by St. Clare and St. Francis of Assisi to uphold the dignity of the poor and sick and to work for justice.

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