Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Statement of Solidarity From the Administrative Committee Of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Terror always seeks to separate us from those we most love. Through their suffering, courage and compassion, Parisians are reminding us that the common bond of humanity is strongest when the need is greatest. We pledge our prayers for everyone who suffers from this horrific violence and our advocacy to support all those working to build just and peaceful societies.

To the people of France, we mourn with you and honor the lives lost from several nations, including our own. To our brothers and sisters in the Church in France, your family in the United States holds you close to our hearts. May the tender and merciful love of Jesus Christ give you comfort during this great trial and lead you on a path toward healing and peace.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Four Ways of Dialogue

By Julia McStravog

The Holy Father’s prayer intention for the month of November is dialogue. This intention is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ pontificate, and a continuation of his encouragement to the United States Bishops in his address to them at St. Matthew’s in Washington DC to “dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly.” While all of these dialogues are not accessible or necessary for every person, I don’t doubt his encouragement to “dialogue fearlessly” is for every person. Dialogue is relational and active. It is a dynamic mode of being that requires relationship, indeed friendship, with the religious other. It is encounter.

After the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the question became how to pastorally and practically implement the teachings of the Council. Specifically in reaction to the Declaration on non-Christian traditions and the Decree on Ecumenism the (what is now) the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) and the (what is now) Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), were formed respectively, to focus on the Catholic Church’s relationships with those of other religious traditions, as well as other Christians.

In 1984 the document, Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, was produced by the then Secretariat for Non-Christians. The document lays the foundation for the Christian call to dialogue as mission, that is “working for the extension of the Kingdom [of God] and its values among all men and women,” (11) through the example “of Jesus… to respect the freedom of conscience of the human person.” “Mission must always revolve about people in full respect for their freedom.” (18) By following the teaching from the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Catholics must respect the inherent dignity of the human person to follow their conscience. In doing so, it necessarily follows that dialogue is intrinsic to the mission of the Church.

Dialogue and Mission laid out four ways of engaging in the practice of dialogue. While this document was produced by the now PCID, the framework for engaging in dialogue is accessible to the ecumenical cause as well. The Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs practices the first mode of dialogue, the dialogue of theological exchange on behalf of the United States Bishops. Interreligious and ecumenical dialogues have different goals, interreligious for mutual understanding, ecumenical for working toward greater Christian unity. However, engaging in dialogue with the religious other can also foster greater Christian fellowship. As Saint Pope John Paul II astutely observed, interreligious dialogue “can also be a way of realizing unity among Christian Churches which are moved by the same love of Christ.”(Address to Secretariat for Non-Christians, March 3, 1984).

While the dialogue of theological exchange is a very specialized form a dialogue requiring an academic grasp of tradition, the meat of Dialogue and Mission is for the every person. The dialogue of life, the dialogue of common social action, and the dialogue of religious experience are accessible to any level of experience. Whether a parish is just beginning dialogue for the first time, or are seasoned practitioners, these three ways of being in relationship with the other, with encountering the other are suitable for engagement. They must also be supplemented by an attitude of hospitality and humility.

(1) The dialogue of theological exchange is practiced among scholars and religious leaders from various traditions.

(2) The dialogue of life is about attitude and the spirit that guides personal conduct. For the Christian it is about witnessing to the Gospel in all facets of life with engaging and living peacefully with the religious others.

(3) The dialogue of common social action is emerging as an important form of dialogue. There are groups of varying religious backgrounds coming together to live out their faith commitments by working together to combat homelessness, hunger, workers’ rights, and other social ills. The world today needs the common witness of people of faith.

(4) The dialogue of religious experience is where those who are deeply rooted in their own religious traditions share experiences of prayer, contemplation, faith, as well as religious expression.

It is built in the mission of the Church to encounter the religious other in a spirit of friendship. Dialogue and Mission sets out a feasible framework for the local parish to reach out to their neighbors in various ways. Dialogue need not be a daunting task, though it does take patience and humility to truly foster deep spiritual friendship. It is way to live out our Christian call to witness to the human dignity of every person laid out in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, upheld by the Council Fathers, and encouraged and modeled by Pope Francis.


Julia McStravog, is the Program and Research Specialist for the USCCB's Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 13

1. This morning Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, USCCB general secretary, met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden at the White House. The meeting continued the good will evident during the visit of Pope Francis. They addressed a range of issues important to Catholics in the United States as well as the common good, including Syrian and Middle East refugees, religious persecution, religious freedom, immigration reform and prison reform. The bishops are grateful for this opportunity for candid, cordial dialogue with the President and Vice President of the United States.

2. The USCCB's 2015 Fall General Assembly will be live streamed on the Internet, November 16-17, and will be available via satellite for broadcasters wishing to air it. The live stream will be available at: News updates, vote totals, texts of addresses and presentations and other materials will be posted to this page. Those wishing to follow the meeting on social media can use the hashtag #usccb15 and visit USCCB's Twitter handle for live events (, as well as on Facebook ( and Instagram (

3. Pope Francis will visit to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome Sunday. Last month the USCCB and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued the "Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist," a unique ecumenical document that marks a pathway toward greater visible unity between Catholics and Lutherans.

4. Sunday begins National Bible Week. Test your Bible knowledge today.

5.God loves you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Commitment to Dialogue

By Father John W. Crossin, OSFS

Sometimes I ask people how they became committed to dialogue. Occasionally the story is dramatic.

One priest told me that as a young graduate student he went to an ecumenical prayer service. When he walked out he knew he must commit himself to dialogue. Over thirty years later, he is still teaching about ecumenism and dialoguing with others.

Most people’s experience is more mundane. My friends often say that they were invited to an ecumenical or interreligious dialogue. They found that was where they belonged. They enjoyed learning about others and engaging the conversation. The conversation got deeper over time.

My own experience is that I was chosen for an ecumenical position. In the beginning I found myself ‘staying with people I knew’ at ecumenical and interreligious meetings. I eventually realized that I would have to take a little risk to get to know people. So I took to coming to meetings early for the luncheon before the meeting. I tried to sit next to someone I didn’t know, someone I could get to know better. Dialogue begins with establishing a personal relationship, with becoming friends. Thus I had some good but simple meals and got to know many of the participants.

Most people I have gotten to know through dialogues are quite impressive. They are knowledgeable and spiritually deep. I try to listen intently and to learn from them. Of course I often share things about myself as well. Dialogue is mutual.

To this day, I find that on the way home from a meeting I often am thinking about what was said and what I learned. Later in the day, I might bring something that affected me into prayer. I ask myself how God might be speaking to me through the other person.

I know that the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to my Catholic colleagues. Sometimes the good example and sterling character of my dialogue partners urges me to be better or to understand more deeply.

Father John W. Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales and executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Five Things To Remember On Nov. 6

1. U.S. bishops will vote on a new introductory note and limited revisions to the 2007 version of "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," the USCCB's quadrennial statement on political responsibility, at the bishops' annual Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, November 16-18. The document, which is issued about a year before each U.S. presidential election, will feature proposed new language around issues of public concern for Catholics.

2. Last week, a document was released on a unique ecumenical document that marks a pathway toward greater visible unity between Catholics and Lutherans. Father John Crossin, executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, spoke with Vatican Radio about the agreement. Catholic News Service spoke with Bishop Denis J. Madden, of Baltimore, about how discussions move forward between Lutherans and Catholics.

3.USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services, the world's largest non-governmental resettlement organization, will celebrate its 50th anniversary Nov. 19. Learn how you can take part in the activities.

4. Pope Francis talked a bit about what it was like growing up as a child and how he came to care for the poor.

5. God loves you.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Declaration on the Way: Personal Reflections and an Invitation

By Bishop Denis Madden

A few days ago the Catholic-Lutheran ‘Declaration on the Way’ to Unity was released in Chicago and Washington by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops respectively.

My first feeling on this long-awaited occasion is gratitude to God. Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that all his followers may be one [John 17:21]. St. Paul continually sought unity in the Christian communities [e.g. 1 Cor 1:10-11; Ephesians 4: 1-3]. I am most appreciative of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our work over the last three years. We prayed regularly for this guidance.

I am grateful for the thousands if not millions of Lutherans and Catholics internationally who work together quietly to feed the hungry, to help displaced families, and to serve their communities in so many other ways. Their example of Gospel living and of practical unity inspires the dialogues.

I am grateful to all those who worked so diligently and thoroughly on Catholic-Lutheran dialogues internationally and in various countries during the last 50 years. It is their hard work that we synthesized in this document.

As a Catholic, I am grateful for the Decree on Ecumenism [1964] of the Second Vatican Council that initiated pastoral collaboration and theological dialogues. I am most appreciative of the continual support of Saint John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. I often think of Pope John Paul II’s magnificent encyclical on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint [1995] and especially on its discussion of the deep spiritual roots of ecumenism.

Let me encourage all of you who read the document to begin with a time of prayer. Prayer is the appropriate context for seeking the guidance of the Spirit before reading the text.

I encourage a careful reading of the text. Our Task Force spent many meetings poring over the precise wording so that we could be as accurate as possible. The cumulative force of the agreements is amazing. I did not expect so much agreement by so many dialogues on so many issues.

I did experience some challenges. I grew up in the Bronx before the Second Vatican Council. Our overall relationship with Protestants was still one of conflict. Though, in our neighborhood we got along. I still have some ‘flashbacks’ to those days and occasionally encounter inappropriate negative feelings. Perhaps you will too.

The Declaration on the Way challenged me to deeper understanding and balance. The generous and patient service of my colleagues on the Task Force challenged me to live the Gospel more fully.

I find that ecumenical encounters are a road to spiritual maturity. I hope and pray that all who study this Declaration will too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Observing the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate

By Anthony Cirelli, Ph.D.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, which is the Catholic Church’s Magna Carta for interreligious dialogue. Catholics, especially those who were raised before the Second Vatican Council, will note how this particular document announced in unambiguous language the Church’s absolute rejection of the charge of deicide against the Jewish people while also, and significantly, asserting that Jews are not “cut off” from God and “accursed” forever – a point thus signifying that the Covenant between God and Israel was not revoked (also referred to as “supercessionism”). Catholics will also note that the document just as importantly ventured to dramatically overturn the narrative that for centuries cast a long shadow of suspicion and condemnation over all non-Christian religions when it declared: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (NA 2) In his general audience this morning, Pope Francis echoed the commitment of each pope since the Council to the tenets of Nostra Aetate, when he declared that the Church, “while remaining faithful to the truth of the gospel, namely, that the offer of salvation has its origin in Jesus alone, nevertheless is and will remain forevermore open to dialogue with all religions.” In fact, without the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, events such as the still-fresh-in-our mind and powerfully emotive multi-religious prayer event that was convened by Pope Francis at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York, would likely never have happened.

It would be helpful for all Catholics to reflect on this day of celebration that the most fruitful dimension of Nostra Aetate—one, by the way, that is also continuously referred to by Pope Francis—is the view that dialogue (especially the dialogue of action) can contribute so much, perhaps more than anything else, to insuring greater understanding, affection and esteem between peoples of differing beliefs. And, in doing so, it can contribute to establishing the kind of peace that secular leaders and institutions simply cannot achieve on their own. But even more practically, Nostra Aetate’s appeal to ever greater collaboration between the followers of the world’s religions finds with Pope Francis a simple blueprint for immediate, local, and personal implementation of the rudiments of dialogue: namely, that our collaboration can take the shape of working together in our own neighborhoods and communities to identify and address the needs of the most vulnerable; in doing so, we plant the kinds of seeds that foster an intimacy of mutual esteem and respect that, for Catholics, make real the vision of interreligious harmony called for in Nostra Aetate.

At the end of the day, one might opine, Nostra Aetate is a prophetic text in that it rightly forecasts the relationship between dialogue and healing – it is, in short, a prescription for healing. And each moment of each day, since the foundation of human history, human beings have, in varying degrees, been in need of healing from all kinds of brokenness. By exhorting us to move beyond the violence and brutality (and stupidity!) that so often characterized the past relations between religions, Nostra Aetate offers all of us simple, yet profound and inescapable, recipe for healing and hope when it urges “its sons and daughters” to embark with intention (i.e., with a disposition that listens to learn, forgives to sow seeds of peace, shows compassion and mercy to establish ties of love) on the path of dialogue. And so, we rejoice at the last 50 years in which so many within the Church have accompanied non-Christians on the path of reconciliation that is dialogue. They have planted incredible seeds of possibility for all of us; and now we are beckoned to take up this mission and help bring the seeds to sprout in the light of God’s powerful love and mercy and compassion which we bear as His sons and daughters. Thank you, Council Fathers, for Nostra Aetate—50 years old today!