Fr. Noel: Ecumenical movement growing globally, locally
The Clarion Herald asked Father Emile “Buddy” Noel, director of the archdiocesan Ecumenical and Interfaith Office and parochial vicar of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mandeville, to reflect on the current state of ecumenism.
Please give our readers a brief history of the ecumenical movement.
Ecumenism comes from the Greek word oikumene, meaning the entire world. The ecumenical movement was really born about a century ago, when Protestant groups united in 1910 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss what all Christians held in common. Two years later, the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, a religious order established in New York in the Episcopal tradition, initiated the process of praying each year for Christian unity for a week between Jan. 18-25 – from the commemorations of the Chains of St. Peter to the Conversion of St. Paul. The Atonement Order came into communion with the Catholic Church as a result of this devotion, and the custom spread to the whole Christian world. Pope Francis just celebrated the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Jan. 25 with vespers at the Church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome.
How did this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity go?
I am always happy for those who attend any events that focus on the unity – albeit incomplete – which we as Christians already share. Hopefully, the day will come soon when we can all gather around the table of the Lord and receive the Eucharist. Since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, Catholics have been engaged in dialogues with every major Christian denomination at both the national and international levels. While even after 50 years there is much work yet to be done, we are called to hopefulness that the Holy Spirit, the source of unity, will draw us more closely together.
What are some ecumenical highlights of the past 50 years?
• The 1964 meeting in Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople marked the beginning of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dialogue. Many successes have followed from this, including Pope Francis’ and Patriarch Bartholomew’s meetings in Jerusalem and Constantinople this past year.
• The Agreed Christological Statement between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East in 1994, forged by St. John Paul II and the Assyrian Patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV, in which an ancient dispute from the fifth century was resolved. It paved the way for full sacramental sharing, which is almost a reality. This is considered to be the greatest triumph of the ecumenical endeavor in its 50 years of existence.
• The signing, in 1999, of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, in which the principal reasons for the Protestant Reformation – disagreements over how a person is saved by Christ – were officially resolved. This paved the way for closer dialogue with the Lutherans, in particular, and other Protestants subsequently signed onto the document.
What is the status of Christian unity in our local archdiocese?
Locally, we enjoy very close relations between the Catholic community and our Byzantine and Coptic Orthodox brothers and sisters. There are two local parishes that represent the Byzantine tradition: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans and St. Basil’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Metairie. Through the years, their pastors have been very open to ecumenical dialogue and have joined us for many joint discussions and prayer services. We have also been closely allied to the Episcopalians and Lutherans locally and have frequent meetings together. We are connected particularly through the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, a statewide ecumenical organization, in which the Archdiocese of New Orleans and all the other Catholic dioceses of the state participate, along with the two Episcopal dioceses in Louisiana, the Lutheran Gulf Coast Synod, and the Methodists and Presbyterians as well.
What resources can church parishes, schools and other Catholic ministries find at the archdiocesan Ecumenical and Interfaith Office?
I am available to talk to any school, religious education class or adult education session on the importance of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue today. I also can arrange for visits to the houses of worship of dialogue partners – churches, synagogues or mosques.