Fr. Thomas Ryan is a veteran of ecumenical dialogue.

PHOTO | JOY GREGORY

Fr. Thomas Ryan is a veteran of ecumenical dialogue.

March 17, 2014
JOY GREGORY
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

Unprecedented meetings between Catholic and Evangelical Christians in Calgary helped prepare for more local conversations about how people from divergent Christian traditions can work together to proclaim and witness the Christian mission, says Paulist Father Thomas Ryan.

Increased contact between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics "is relatively recent and notably eye-opening, given the past unitive efforts by Evangelicals stopped well short of Roman Catholic doors," Ryan said at a unique ecumenical conference.

Ryan's presentation focused on Catholic and evangelical commitment to Scripture and creedal beliefs on the reality of sin, salvation through Christ and the necessity of faith.

Held in Calgary March 4-8, Global Impact Week: Catholics and Evangelicals in God's Mission – Together was the first event of its kind in Calgary.

The five-day conference was held at Ambrose University College and Seminary and at St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church. Ambrose is affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.

Ryan and Ambrose president Rev. Dr. Gordon Smith were the two keynote speakers.

Smith, whose formation includes studies at a Jesuit university in Manila, is also a professor of theology at Ambrose.

Ryan, director of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C., is the former director of the Montreal-based Canadian Centre for Ecumenism.

Global Impact Week was spearheaded by the Calgary Catholic Diocese under long-time ecumenism advocate Bishop Frederick Henry.

The event included public sessions and presentations to students at Ambrose.

Adrian Martens, coordinator of the diocesan office of ecumenism, was already familiar with Smith's writing and his emphasis on "the importance of liturgy and sacraments in the Evangelical tradition."

It helped to have people like Smith – and an institution like Ambrose – "in my backyard," he said.

CONTINUE DIALOGUE

Plans to continue the conversation started at the event include invitations to have Evangelical Christians visit Catholic parishes to talk about their approach to prayer and their focus on the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, said Martens.

Smith, who led the presentation at St. Anthony's, gave an Evangelical response to the Second Vatican Council, which opened the doors to ecumenism.

Theological study, including participation in Catholic retreats and Eucharist celebrations, helped him appreciate Catholic attention to liturgy and sacraments, he said.

Having grown up in a faith tradition that taught that Catholicism was not Scripture based, Smith admitted his own surprise – and delight – at learning the Catholic Mass is solidly based on Scripture and includes readings from Old and New Testaments.

He noted the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) as a particularly powerful example of Catholic and Evangelical divergence.

ANCIENT WISDOM

Smith said he sees value in the "ancient wisdom" of the RCIA process in requiring converts to Catholicism to undertake a period of formation that's radically different from the personal conversion experiences of Evangelicals.

When challenged by audience participants, Smith and Ryan encouraged listeners to seek understanding versus division. "We need to be learners," said Smith, "fellow pilgrims, not fellow critics."

"Conversion-evangelization, discipleship training, congregational planting and spiritual empowerment" are areas where "Catholics could learn a great deal from Evangelicals," added Ryan.

"Evangelicals can teach volumes around invitation, welcome, involvement in ministry, service and community."

ONE CHRIST

Quoting the ecumenical agreement proclaimed by the World Council of Churches, Ryan reminded listeners that "Christ has made us for his own. He is not divided. In seeking him, we find one another."

To learn more: Audio transcripts of the keynote presentations and the final session, Ecumenism and Evangelization: Challenges and Opportunities, are available from the Ambrose website, www.ambrose.edu.