by Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, president, Council on Christian Unity
Note: Robert Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity, represented the Disciples of Christ at the 14th General Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome on October 4-24, 2015. He was one of only 14 ecumenical representatives (identified as “fraternal delegates”) participating in the Synod. On Friday, October 16, each of the fraternal delegates were invited to offer a brief, three-minute statement to the full plenary gathering of 280 bishops, archbishops, cardinals and Pope Francis as a contribution to the Synod’s thinking and discussion around the issues of the Synod’s theme, “The Vocation and Mission of the Family.” Here is the text of the statement offered by Robert Welsh on that occasion:
Holy Father and Members of this 14th General Synod of Bishops: Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am honored to be present with you as the fraternal delegate of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). My comments will be centered upon three brief reflections:
First, I want to applaud you for choosing the topic of “The Vocation and Mission of the Family.” How do we understand marriage and family life today? What can we do to respond to the growing number of divorces and the impact on the children in those families? These (and other issues) are urgent matters before all Christians, and all churches, that represent major theological, practical, and pastoral challenges.
Second, I am one of those referred to in the working document for this Synod as living in a “mixed marriage,” that is I am a Protestant, my wife is Roman Catholic. In the paragraphs included in that working document, “mixed marriages” are only described in relation to presenting problems. My hope is that this Synod might also identify “mixed marriages” more positively as “great opportunities” for witnessing to God’s gift of oneness in Christ and God’s love for all persons — especially for those marriages between persons baptized as Christians.
And a third reflection (on a very personal level): My wife is Roman Catholic; my daughter has become Roman Catholic through her marriage to a life-long Roman Catholic; and I have now have three beautiful grandchildren – all baptized within the Catholic Church. My oldest grandson (Trace), now 14 years old, frequently serves as an altar boy. He loves the church. He loves the Mass, especially helping during the celebration of the Eucharist.
My deep regret continues to be that, when I attend Mass with my grandson, I am not allowed to partake of the Eucharist. This is personal, and it’s painful. As a Disciples of Christ and as a life-long ecumenist, I not only experience being excluded from my own human family; I also experience exclusion from the family of the church: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that we all confess.
But, it’s not just about me. I also believe this pain is deeply felt by hundreds of thousands of persons around the world who long to experience their unity in Christ as one family sharing in the one Eucharist. Indeed, I believe the world itself is waiting, and longing, for such a sign of God’s reconciliation, and healing, and peace.
Holy Father, as part of the “Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy” that you have declared to begin in just a few weeks (on December 8), I hope that you might offer a strong word and a concrete “real-life” sign of hope and healing that would be both pastoral and evangelical: where all Christians might be welcomed to share in the one Eucharist. The Holy Year of Mercy could thus be the occasion to act upon the wealth of theological agreement that has been produced through ecumenical dialogue over the years since the Second Vatican Council: Celebrating the family, gathered together at one Table of God’s love.
I pray that this Synod of Bishops will not only bring renewal to the life of the Catholic Church, especially in its local parishes and dioceses — but also, that it will bring renewal to the ecumenical movement and to all churches in our common calling to God’s mission in the world and God’s gift of unity in Christ.