Christians united in common gift of ‘living waters’
The moment of epiphany crackles from the pages of St. John’s Gospel: The Samaritan woman at the well suddenly realizes that the Messiah – the ultimate thirst-quencher – is right before her, engaging her in conversation and knowing the story of her life even better than she.
The woman is so startled she bolts off – leaving everything behind – to share the Good News of the Jewish man who had audaciously overstepped all cultural barriers to converse with her.
“She runs because she realizes something that I think we don’t realize: the answer’s there; Christ is there. The Messiah is there and she runs to town and unabashedly says, ‘I met a man who knew everything I ever did and he has come to us!’” said Father Philip Latronico, speaking to members of multiple Christian traditions assembled inside Holy Name of Jesus Church for the Jan. 26 ecumenical prayer service held in conjunction with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“We know (Christ is the Messiah), too, but when’s the last time you or I ran out to tell people what God has done for us?” Father Latronico asked. “What is the last time we took the time to tell people the Lord is your God, to tell people all the things he does?”
Christ came for all
This joyful knowledge that all can access the “living waters” of Christ should animate and unify all Christians, and trump divisions based on denomination and culture, said Father Latronico, who led prayers for Christian unity alongside 15 other Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant clergy from the metro area.
The service’s Scripture readings, intercessions and hymns shared a common refrain: Christ came to quench the thirst of all people.
“Fifty years ago, we wouldn’t be sitting next to each other, said Father Latronico, director of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Office of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, recalling a trip to Turkey to meet the patriarch of the East.
He said their conversation was marked by the same candor, love and non-condemnatory spirit that characterized the encounter between the Samaritan woman and Christ.
“We talked about the reality of our world, the reality that we need for people to talk and listen to each other, hear each other, and then respond,” he said, thanking congregants for attending the Monday night prayer service to make a “simple statement to the city of New Orleans that the Christian population wishes to see unity, wishes to see grace, wishes to see life.”
A glimpse of that unity could be seen after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Father Latronico noted.
“We really discovered most human beings, whether they were Christian or another religion or no faith, had the goodness of God inside of them. We began to see living waters spring up from within,” he said.
“Every time you do a good act, every time we live our lives filled with the presence of what God has taught us in our hearts, we’ll see living waters and we see those waters not only quench ourselves, but quench each other. We become a source of the light of God to the world!”
One flock, one shepherd
Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the gathering was a sign of hope in achieving “the dream of Jesus” that there be one flock and one shepherd.
“That is not the case today, but we pray that someday, through God’s blessing and our efforts, that that can become a reality,” Archbishop Aymond said.
“May God who teaches us to welcome each other and calls us to practice hospitality, grant us peace and serenity as we move forward from this place on the path of Christian unity.”
Forging united front in Christ
The ecumenical prayer service, sponsored by the Loyola Institute for Ministry and the archdiocesan Ecumenical and Interfaith Office, was preceded a day earlier by a panel discussion commemorating the late Jesuit Father Donald Hawkins, the former pastor of Holy Name of Jesus, an avid ecumenist for more than 30 years and who served as the archdiocese’s ecumenical and interfaith director.
In addition to Father Latronico, four other panelists reflected on their ecumenical experiences: Rev. Susan Gaumer, retired ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church; Rev. Dean Sunseri, pastor of Voice of the Kingdom Non-Denominational Church; Bishop J. Douglas Wiley of Life Center Cathedral; and Dr. Will Mackintosh, founder of Interfaith Communications, a local ecumenical and interreligious organization.
In addition to sharing their stories about how religious barriers – such as the study of the saints’ lives and the stigma of visiting each other’s places of worship – were now relics of the past, the panel discussed the importance of ecumenical dialogue in light of the persecution of Christians in areas such as the Middle East.
Bishop Wiley said Christians risk being “flutes when we need trumpets” – or, the world desperately needs the powerful and united witness of all Christians. He encouraged all members of this “body of Christ” to speak up, speak out, and get involved in the mission of Jesus, regardless of tradition.