By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Ecumenism is defined as the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian peoples. It grew out of and is part of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. The word ecumenism comes from the Greek oikoumemene, meaning the inhabitants of the world. And closer to home, the inhabitants of northwest Missouri, where our diocese is located, come from many different faith traditions.
In the afterglow of Vatican II, which urged reconnections and sharing between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians among other modifications, members of different churches began interacting and discussing ways to enhance their commonalities.
Unitatis Redintegratio, Restoration of Unity, the Council’s Decree of Ecumenism, instructs: “The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.
“At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand.
“Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.” (Chapter 2, 11-13)
About 10 years ago, Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey, was requested by then-Bishop Raymond Boland to serve as the Diocesan Ecumenical Officer – the point person for questions and dialogues pertaining to ecumenical topics. He served as the ecumenical officer until the distance between Conception Abbey in the northern part of the state and ecumenical events in Kansas City and more southerly cities became too much; Abbot Polan asked Bishop Johnston to find someone to succeed him.
Last month, Bishop Johnston requested Father Paul Turner, pastor of St. Anthony parish, to serve as the Ecumenical Officer.
“Bishop Johnston is always interested in relationships with other churches,” Father Turner said. “I imagine that comes from his experiences as Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, before he came to us.” He added that the bishop is aware that acting in conjunction with other faiths, especially in public square, makes a joint Christian voice more powerful.
Father Turner grew up in St. Therese Little Flower Parish, and even as a child in the post Vatican II years, he had an interest in the liturgy and in the field, the spirit, of ecumenism.
While attending Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Father Turner took a course in Theology at one of the Christian seminaries. His interest in the liturgy and in ecumenism heightened, he wrote his doctoral thesis on “Confirmation Practices after the Reformation,” referencing the conclusions and documents of the Council of Trent.
Father Turner served as pastor of St. Munchin Church in Cameron for several years before being named pastor of St. Anthony’s. He expects that his experience of forming ministerial alliances, meeting ministers from other Christian denominations and building friendships to help better that community as a whole, will be of use in this assignment.
He also is the author of several books and numerous articles on the liturgy and ecumenism, and is a member of several ecumenical organizations, including the North American Academy of Liturgy and Societas Liturgica. At meetings, members share ideas, experiences and research on liturgies and rites such as Christian initiation.
He has already attended a get-acquainted meeting hosted by four leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He noted that there are common interests between the Mormon and the Catholic churches, including defense of life, the sanctity of marriage and religious freedom.
He plans to attend the annual Friendship Dinner sponsored by the Dialogue institute of the Southwest April 7.The keynote address will be given by Rev. Dirk Ficca, of the Presbytery of Chicago and director of the Interreligious Institute for Middle East Peace. Father Turner has been invited to participate in a panel on the way interfaith groups respond to immigrants and will present from a Catholic perspective.
Father Turner said he has spent a lifetime trying to grow in ecumenical sensitivity. “Our shared foundation of Christian unity – Baptism – should impact how we work together, how we relate and how processes such as annulments are affected. We should be alert, ready to embrace service, have a prophetic voice with other faith groups, churches to make the message stronger.”
Although ecumenism appears to be low on the radar during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, he said, it plays a part in our work with refugees, in forgiveness of sin, in economic issues and even in food distribution. “We need to practice mercy with one another, link arms with people of other faiths and together we can be merciful and raise an important voice in the public square.”
Father Turner wants to see stronger alliances within different church groups, better understanding and communication. “I continue to hope that there will be ways to build bridges among all peoples who sincerely support one another in their acts of faith.”