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Friday, May 4, 2012

THE BIG SURPRISE


A few moments ago, Cardinal Cantalamessa, the personal preacher for both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI declared: "Dialogue is not so much a change of ideas as much as it is an exchange of gifts, entrenched division will only be dislodged by spending time with one another."

As I write I am in the sprawling Roman Catholic Cathedral complex in Assisi, Italy as a guest of the Vatican's Catholic Fraternity and the generous patronage of The Pontifical Council of the Laity. I am here on behalf of the communion of churches to which I belong, specifically in my role as Apostolic Delegate to Israel. Several of the bishops from our communion are attending along with archbishops, bishops and priests and leaders from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Evangelical Church.

Most of the dialogue has centered around Catholic/Protestant cooperation and understanding, especially among Catholic Charismatics and Pentecostals. The big surprise and blessing for me has been the insertion of the vital role the Jewish people and Israel in these discussions. Prominently imbedded in this gathering of Christian leaders has been a clear message: Israel is a promised place and the Jewish people are still in covenant with God. While these views are common among many Evangelicals and Pentecostals, to hear archbishops and cardinals of the Roman Catholic church openly state such positions is rare and very encouraging.  Truly we live in a historic hour.

There are many obstacles to effective cooperation between the multitude of Christian denominations and plethora of Jewish sects, but new hope is on the horizon. We live in a unique moment in human history which calls for brave steps by willing participants. While many pitfalls exist and intentional mischief abounds, real progress is being made. The hard work and prayers of past generations now demand our best in this generation. Divides must be bridged, wounds healed, new strategies formed.

Dialogue requires a willingness to repent, a confession of the sin of disunity. Repentance creates internal space where new thoughts and goals can form and where people can move forward together. To be cast into the turbulent waters of cooperation between religious sects provokes an internal response like that of Moses in Exodus 4:13..."Please send someone else.” But the immortal words of Mordecai to Esther must win the day..."who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

And so, we take steps, both small and great, both weak and mighty. We pray for unity of hearts and minds in obedience to the command of Holy Script. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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