Thirty bishops from 18 different churches in 14 countries have said they were ‘deeply impressed’ by the depth of collaboration shown by Christians in Ireland, and especially in Northern Ireland.
They were in Northern Ireland from October 21-25 for the 38th annual ecumenical meeting organised by the Focolare Movement, which brings together bishops in places characterised by cooperation between Christians. The theme was ‘In a divided world, united in Christ.’
In these meetings, rather than focusing on issues of doctrine, the bishops learn about the local ecumenical journey, share their own experiences of living the Gospel, and explore the unifying potential of Christ’s words. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them”. (Mt 18:20)
The bishops visited Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast; the Methodist Skainos Centre at the East Belfast Mission; the Corrymeela Community and toured Belfast city.
In Drumalis Retreat and Conference Centre, Larne, on October 23, more than 120 people from across the Christian spectrum met with the bishops to share their experiences of engaging with Christians from Churches other than their own. This dialogue of life, of Christianity in practice, particularly as seen in friendship, emerged as a key theme.
Leading figures in the main churches, including both the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh, the Most Rev Eamon Martin and the Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke, paid tribute to this important type of dialogue which supports and enables theological dialogue. This was endorsed by the Rev Brian Anderson, President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Rev Sam McGuffin, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and the Very Rev Ivan Patterson, present at the meeting on behalf of the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
The bishops attended several liturgies during the week: Syrian Orthodox, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Anglican. On the evening of October 24, the bishops participated at an uplifting Choral Evensong in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. Immediately afterwards they walked together to the neighbouring Roman Catholic Church of St Patrick, Donegall Street. There, during a moving ecumenical service, a solemn commitment in the light of Jesus’ New Commandment, to love one another’s church and consider each other’s crosses as their own, so that all may be one. The diverse congregation was visibly moved and followed the bishops’ example by spontaneously exchanging the sign of peace and equally spontaneously, joining them for a meal in the Parish hall!
The Rev Sarah Groves, Bishop of the Moravian Church in Great Britain and Ireland, said of the meeting: “It was inspiring to hear the stories of faith in action in many parts of the world.”
Bishop Brendan Leahy, Catholic Bishop of Limerick commented: “There was a wonderful coming together of the international and local. In a really upbeat atmosphere, people were able to share stories, experiences and insights in a way that gave us all a lift and offered hope.”
Former Presbyterian moderator, the Rev Ken Newell, described the event as a “new Pentecost where Christians of different Churches from all over the world were one in the Spirit, where the unity of Church was felt … for the well-being of the world.”
Maria Rosa Logozzo, of Focolare, Belfast, said: “It was great to see how the testimonies of local bishops and church leaders and collaborative initiatives between people from different churches, such as Embrace NI, the 4 Corners Festival and Dublin Council of Churches, gave so much hope to Bishops from many different countries.”