The culminating event of the 30th annual National Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – a worship service for people of all faiths – was held Jan. 26 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New Orleans.
The Very Rev. Father Peter Nugent, pastor of St. Basil Antiochian Orthodox Church, presided, and Father Emile “Buddy” Noel, parochial vicar of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Mandeville and the newly appointed ecumenical and interfaith director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, gave the homily on the theme “Has Christ Been Divided?”
Father Noel harkened back to a childhood memory – building sand castles with siblings and friends – and how that simple pleasure lost its appeal and turned into “alliances made and treaties broken, threats and arguments …” as a metaphor for the divisions existing in the Christian church today.
“I can’t help but think that the problems of division that affect communities this day, those of divided nations, churches, the haves and have nots, are not so much different than those childish rivalries that plagued us during our youth,” he said. “And, for some reason, we never seem to grow out of them.”
He quoted Jesus from the Gospel of St. John who said, “Father may they all be one, as you are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me,” to reiterate that we are nothing without Christ. He said the church is founded on Christ.
“To the degree over the centuries that the church has forgotten this foundational reality, we have impoverished ourselves and have turned to our own selfishness, the childishness that has affected us from our earliest years,” he said. “We divide ourselves up and subdivide ourselves and feel trapped, and our witness as Christians in the world diminishes.”
History of ecumenism
Father Noel regaled the audience at the celebration with the history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, first observed in upstate New York in 1908 by “two American Episcopalians – Father Paul James Wattson and Sister Lurana White, co-founders of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, who were thoroughly committed to the reunification of the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions.”
He said, by 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended the observance to the whole Catholic Church.
Then, the Second Vatican Council released a decree on ecumenism that listed essential elements for the reunion of Christians: conversion of the heart, prayer together and work together “as brothers and sisters in Christ to build a better world, to defeat the forces in this world that seek to destroy us all, the forces of hatred and prejudice, which lead to war, poverty, violence, murder and racism.
“We can rise up as people of faith of whatever denomination and work together, as we have seen locally in ecumenical and interfaith efforts to effect change in our city of New Orleans, working toward social justice and a better chance at life for all people,” he said.
Dr. William Mackintosh, director of Interfaith Communications International, the group that organized the week-long observance of local ecumenical events, expressed gratitude for being able to continue the long tradition of ecumenism in New Orleans. He thanked Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who participated in the service, for being a friend of the local ecumenical movement. But, he cautioned that the quest for unity is far from over. There are more than 44,000 Christian denominations worldwide.
For details on future ecumenical events, call 508-0521.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.