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This article was published in the Summer 1993 issue of The Journal.

A PASTORAL PRIORITY

From an article in The Priest, April 1993, by Fr Ernest Falardeau, SSS, Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Santa Fe in New Mexico. 

Too often people think of ecumenism as some kind of elite game for high stakes indulged in by bishops and theologians. The players seem to enjoy the game without much thought about the results or the passing of time. Laity are generally not invited to play the game. 

John Paul II calls ecumenism a "pastoral priority". It is a task of the highest priority to be done by all because it is a pastoral need. 

A pastoral approach emphasizes that people are the primary concern of the ecumenical movement. The Church is the People of Cod before it is an institution. And what concerns people must have priority in the Church. Jesus came to save people, not an institution, a philosophy or a way of life. 

In the final analysis, those who are hurt by the divisions of the Church are people. They are separated from loved ones, friends and neighbours by the continuing divisions of the Christian Church. This pain is particularly acute in interchurch families. It affects parents and children from one generation to the next . . . At a Lutheran­Anglican­Roman Catholic gathering in Albuquerque (New Mexico), participants were asked to share their experiences with baptisms, weddings and funerals. These critical moments in the Christian life were seen as filled with opportunities to think and act ecumenically. 

At a time when the joy or pain of people is so intense, clergy and laity must rise to the occasion. Baptisms, weddings and funerals provide ample opportunities for the kind of ecumenical sensitivity required of all ministers today. Recognizing the presence of "the other" is the first step to promoting communion/koinonia with those of other Christian Churches. 

Every Sunday's liturgy provides similar opportunities. It doesn't take a great deal of effort to welcome those from other Christian communions who join their spouses, friends and relatives for weekly worship. One can make these brothers and sisters feel welcome or ignore them. 

Parish councils, parish committees and concerted efforts in the parish are required for this pastoral priority to become a reality in the Church. It is not so much a matter of doing something more or something else. It is a matter of doing everything in a different way and with a different attitude.