Many in our Diocese have found that faith-sharing communities are especially imaginative and encouraging – both in helping individuals to put their Catholic faith more deeply into words and practice, and in helping the parish to benefit and grow through people’s greater involvement and understanding.
This experience was enriched still further – and in so many unforeseen and joyful ways – when such groups involved friends and neighbours from other Christian churches. The gifts and inspiration we received because they were taking part, and that we would otherwise have missed, won our lasting gratitude and appreciation. A number of parishes have decided to continue with the faith-sharing groups, and their networks of friends and contacts, as a means to advance and sustain their parish’s ecumenical outreach and involvement. This can be especially true of common witness and evangelisation.
“Faith sharing” is one term. Another is “encounter and exchange”, recalling how we are invited to receive the gifts and insights that are precious to other traditions and make them our own in the Catholic Church – as well as to offer what is vital and cherished in our Catholic faith and Church life to our friends in other churches and traditions. Any such exchange of our riches requires encounter, familiarity, understanding and trust, built up over time through deepening a loving relationship.
Another term is “dialogue”, the mainstay of the Catholic Church’s long term conversations and discussions with our ecumenical partners. Perhaps the best known in England is ARCIC, the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, now its third phase since it was first set up by Pope Paul and Archbishop Michael Ramsey. There are also dialogues with the Orthodox Church, the Churches of the Reformation, and also the Pentecostal community. The oldest international dialogue is between the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council. In their way, our parish-based ecumenical faith-sharing groups – for dialogue, or encounter and exchange – have been a grass-roots version of this international process. Both are just as important in the whole process of the Church growing back into communion and unity at the local and universal levels at the same time.
The Diocese of Westminster hopes that our parishes will continue this important work of dialogue, of encounter and exchange, of faith-sharing. Disunity in the Church impedes the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus and stands in the way of our witness and service before the world in his name. Therefore the unity of Christians is not only vital to the practical work and mission of the Catholic Church, it is inherent to it, essential to its faith, its nature and the purpose it was given by Christ himself, as he prayed on the night before he died: “Father … may they all be one, as the Father and the Son are one, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”
Not all parishes can develop ecumenical “faith-sharing” or encounter and exchange groups in this way for the moment. For some there exists no available opportunity, for others it is not yet the right time. But we hope that wherever possible, for the right projects and tasks, in company with the whole Catholic Church’s engagement with our brothers and sisters in Baptism in other Churches and Church Communities, each parish will play its part in the pressing work of dialogue and closer communion through the sharing of our faith and our gifts. Please do not under-estimate the importance of the role of your parish in bringing life and practical identity to the international and national relations among the Christians of different churches and traditions.