Pope John XXIII invited representatives from the Protestant denominations and Eastern Orthodox churches to participate as observers at the meetings of the Second Vatican Council. His successors continued the approach toward other denominations.
Pope Francis gave a new example: he even invited the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I to be present at his papal investiture! This invitation was a break-through for the two branches of Christianity that split nearly 1,000 years ago.
The popes have been giving great examples of what we can do to implement ecumenism and to reach out to other denominations. Many Catholics have been implementing this new spirit of Vatican II for years. One example is the Ecumenical Good Friday Walk in Beach Haven and Birkdale, on Auckland’s North Shore.
It has become a tradition: Beach Haven and Birkdale Christians have been walking together on Good Friday for 15 years. Some parishioners from the Catholic Church started it and more than 150 Christians of different denominations participate regularly in this annual event. Starting at the Methodist church, the pilgrims stopped this year at the Anglican church and the Catholic church before walking up the hill to the Coptic church, continuing to the Cross Road and the Grace Revival churches and concluding the walk at the Baptist church. At each church the hosting priest or minister read from the Bible and gave a short reflection on it.
This year the Coptic Christians were able to join the walk again. The Coptic Christians which are said to be the biggest group of Christians in the Middle East and count about 14 million members only in Egypt. As the Coptic Orthodox Church calculates the date of Easter differently to the Western Christians they cannot always join the Ecumenical Walk but this year they were present again. When the pilgrims stopped at the Coptic St Mark’s church the hosts had opened all their doors to give everyone the chance to have a glimpse into their church. Pope Francis was heading the Argentine church’s commission on Eastern Rite Christians for many years. Beach Haven and Birkdale Christians have gotten to know a bit more about their own neighbours of the Eastern Rite.
The big wooden cross that was carried in turn from station to station by members of the different Christian denominations was followed by the pilgrims of different age groups, different ethnic groups and members of different Christian churches. Between the stations there was time for personal encounter and at the hosting church there was the time to share the Readings with each other.
What a great chance to mingle with different people of our community! A chance to get to know each other and to better understand what unites all of us.
Beate Matthies, 4 April 2013