Different walks of faith, united in love

March 25, 2014

HOUSTON — Since Vatican II in the early 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church on a global scale has actively pursued building relationships with people of all walks of faith to fulfill the common desire to love and serve one God.

During his first year as pontiff, Pope Francis has “walked the talk.” During his Papal Address on Jan. 17, at a meeting with representatives of the Lutheran Church in Finland, who were making their annual ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome on the feast of Finland’s patron, St. Henry, Pope Francis said, “For this very reason, our witness must concentrate on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God made manifest in Christ His Son. Here we find space to grow in communion and in unity, promoting spiritual ecumenism.” 

To facilitate global ecumenical activity, Canon Law recommends that every diocese have an office or commission comprised of clergy, religious, laity, and others with various areas of expertise to focus solely on this initiative. 

In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Affairs, which is one of the 60 ministries in the Archdiocese that is supported by the Diocesan Services Fund, has made this mission a reality for people living in the Houston area by seeking greater unity among those who share one faith and one baptism in Jesus Christ (Ecumenism), as well as seeking deeper understanding among people of other faiths (Interreligious) toward a world of mutual respect and peace.

“The mission of the commission of the Archdiocese is to maintain and cultivate understanding, respect and cooperation between the Archdiocese and other Christian and non-Christian communities in the area through education, dialogue and common witness,” said Father Reginald Samuels, Officer of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and Ecumenism Commission Chairperson.

In 2012, Houston was declared the most ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the country, surpassing New York City. (Kever, 2012) 
Out of the 6,249,904 people living in the Houston area that year, 1,181,398, or about 19 percent, were Catholic. 

Father Samuels believes that as the fourth largest city in the nation, it is especially important for those Catholics living in the Houston area to recognize globalization and the need to become more unified in Christ. 

Traditionally, The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is observed every year from Jan. 18 through Jan. 25 in the northern hemisphere (around Pentecost in the southern hemisphere). 

Since 1968, materials jointly prepared by the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have been used worldwide, and have become one of the primary focuses in the mission of evangelization. 

The Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs works with Catholic parishes, the various Church denominations throughout Houston, along with other organizations, including the Center of Faith And Culture at the University of St. Thomas, to bring about this goal of Christian prayer and dialogue each year. 

At his Papal Address on Jan. 25, at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis said this about Christ and interconnection, “Christ’s name creates communion and unity, not division. He came to create communion among us, not to divide us!” 

Father Samuels believes we have been sent into the world to continue the works of Jesus Christ, as we can only accomplish this mission if we are unified in the Body of Jesus Christ. 

He said that is why it is important for Catholics to recognize and practice unity through a culture of understanding and witness. 

“Pope Francis, by his actions and words has inspired millions of people around the world, and he has demonstrated that the action of unity is to embrace all of humanity,” Samuels said. “I am personally inspired by the words and actions of Pope Francis, because he has demonstrated that he is a pastor who preaches — by word and example. 

“He has continued the tradition of Vatican II to encourage the faithful to pursue unity and has demonstrated this from the first days of his pontificate.”

Father Samuels said it is in the interest of serving the will of Christ for his Church that the Ecumenical Commission establishes the work to “create communion and unity” among the faithful to serve Christ’s desire for unity, to speak truth, seek to heal the division of error and misunderstanding, to witness the presence of Christ in our world, and bring people together in the peace which can only be known through the encounter with Christ, our Lord.