February 21, 2024
Many thanks to those who commented on the January 12 Five Ways e-letter.
Although the attached article from the national Jesuit edited journal America is long, I think you will find it very readable. The Episcopal Church in the USA (Anglican in other countries) and the Roman Catholic Church were very close following the Second Vatican Council, in 1965. Then the decision by the Episcopal Church to ordain women priests and bishops, and their approval of certain moral questions seemed to put a roadblock towards further union.
As the America article explains, the symbolic actions by Pope St. Paul VI and Pope Francis, along with the twinning of Episcopalian and Roman Catholic Bishops, indicates that progress is not dead, but still continuing.
I hope to hear from the Oblate bishop in Sri Lanka who is twinned to an Anglican bishop there.
My thanks to former regional counsellor for the USA and Canada, Father Warren Brown, O.M.I., for sending me this article.
As we continue in the first week of Lent, is there an urgent dimension of evangelical ecumenism in Lent? On Ash Wednesday, our churches saw many people come for ashes who do not attend Sunday Mass. And it is more and more evident that many Catholics are no longer marrying Catholics, but members of other Christian Churches. Can we invite these spouses, sometimes non-practicing Eastern Orthodox or Protestants, to join us for Sunday Mass and/or Stations of the Cross during Lent?
The hymns during Lent, the emphasis on our baptism and what it means for spiritual growth, and above all the Cross of Jesus joined to our daily cross, do attract people. Let us share our experience with those around us, of Jesus carrying our cross.
May our observance of Lent bring us closer to Jesus and each other.
In His love,
Father Harry Winter, O.M.I.
We are grateful to Fr. Charles Hurkes, OMI, for forwarding the 64 Letters of Condolences from Dr. Hu Yeping. Click here for a slightly edited version, where the many cc e-mails have been deleted. A personal remembrance of Fr. McLean: after his year of study in Cairo, Egypt, concerning Islamic Religious Thought (1991), he wrangled an invitation to address the Mullahs (scholars of Islamic Religion) in the holy city of Qom, Iran. He was the first non-Islamic scholar, and the first Christian, to do so. He entered the lecture hall with some fear, and immediately sensed the hostility of the Mullahs.
He related to a group of us when the Oblate Center for Mission Studies, Washington, DC (1994-1999) and his Center for Research in Values and Philosophy (see 8th item below) were working closely together, that all of a sudden, an expression from our Oblate spirituality came to mind: to be an Oblate of Mary Immaculate is to have “a passport to heaven.” He remembered that this is also a revered Islamic expression.
So he introduced himself as an “Oblate of Mary, with a passport to heaven,” and the Mullahs expressions all changed from one of hostility to welcome. This was one of Fr. McLean’s many gifts, to take an expression from one religion and adapt it to another, showing the unity of values.
For more on Fr. George McLean and the Center for Research in Values and Philosophy, click these links:
January 12, 2024
Many thanks to those who replied to the December 22 Five Ways e-letter. I hope Christmas and the New Year brought joy to you and your loved ones.
As we approach the 2024 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25, there are several special features for this year.
First to consider is that the Vatican and the World Council of Churches each year choose different local Churches to prepare the materials. This year they chose the Christian Churches of Burkina Faso, and the rapidly growing ecumenical community Chemin Neuf, headquartered in France, and spreading all over the world. The Wikipedia article on Chemin Neuf is very extensive.
The material this year centers on St. Luke’s response in the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “You shall love the Lord your God . . . and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10:27). These materials are still available from the Graymoor Ecumenical Institute: http://www.geii.org.
Secondly, we are challenged by the fact that over 50% of Catholic marriages today involve a non-Catholic Christian. We do not seem prepared to help these families face the special difficulties this poses, especially when the children want to learn about the religions of both parents. More and more parishes want to help these families, but specialists and materials are lacking.
Thirdly, when the October 2023 Synod closed, its final document urged more participation from Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants in the October 2024 Synod. Which means more participation on the parish level too.
Finally, we need our evangelical Protestants as allies confronting abortion. We need our liberal Protestants as allies in confronting discrimination, especially as we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 15.
The Holy Spirit is very eager to help all Christians grow closer, so Jesus will become clearer to all. I welcome your insights about doing this.
In His love,
Fr. Harry Winter, O.M.I.
Evangelization and Christmas
December 18, 2023
Yesterday, Sunday, Dec. 17, our 11 am Mass was full for the first time since before covid. The attraction was the annual children’s Christmas Pageant, presented by the Faith Formation Director and the Music Director. It struck me how many of those attending were not practicing Catholics and perhaps not even Christian, the aunts and uncles and grandparents and close friends of the children. (We used Louise Egan’s “The First Christmas,” available on the internet).
Christmas is an ideal time for evangelization. May we go out of our way to welcome those who are sniffing around for hope. With the wars between Israel and Hamas, and between Russia and the Ukraine, people do look for strength. Let us pray for these people especially as they attend Christmas Mass.
As the Christmas dinner winds down, when coffee and dessert are being served, it is a special time to ask the oldest person there “What was the best Christmas you ever had?” I am sure Jesus will enter into the conversation.
I welcome hearing about your attempts to witness to Jesus at Christmas. And many, many thanks to those who commented on the Nov. 20 Five Ways.
May you have the best of Christmases and New Years.
In Christ’s love,
Fr. Harry Winter, O.M.I.
The October 2023 Synod began on Sept. 30, with the most amazing Ecumenical Prayer Service since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965 (click here for the hour-long service as described by www.omiusa.org, Synodality and the Oblates, Part 7, Oct. 4, 2023). The Synthesis devotes #6 of Part One, with 12 paragraphs [a-l] to “The Eastern Churches and the Latin Church Traditions.” This part of the Synthesis will be examined later. I will concentrate here on #7 of Part One, “On the Road Towards Christian Unity.”
Twelve “fraternal delegates” were invited from four major Christian traditions: three from the Orthodox Church, three from the Oriental Orthodox Churches, three from the Mainline Protestant Churches (Anglican Communion, World Methodist Council, and World Communion of Reformed Churches), and three from Free Churches/Evangelical-Pentecostal(World Baptist Alliance, World Pentecostal Fellowship and Disciples of Christ). Of the six attending from the Protestant Churches, one is a woman, Dr. Elizabeth Newman, of the World Baptist Alliance.
The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity made it quite clear that these twelve fraternal delegates were “not only observers, but are invited to participate in the discussions, particularly in the Minor Circles” (News, Sept. 25, 2023). And the Synthesis itself spoke of “the active participation of fraternal delegates” as being one of the “new experiences” which gave the delegates “the evangelical joy of being the People of God” (#20a).
The Synthesis of Oct. 28th called the Ecumenical Prayer Service of Sept. 30 “a profound ecumenical gesture. . . . This highly significant event also allowed us to recognize that we are in an ecumenical kairos [critical time] and to affirm that what unites us is greater than what divides us” (6a).
The Synod members then linked the baptism of every Christian with both ecumenism and the sensus fidei, the Latin term indicating that the laity must be consulted in any matter of importance (7b). The attitude of the faithful is at the very root of the effort to include the laity in synods, councils and discussions. Without the laity, not only Roman Catholic laity, but every baptized Christian, something essential is missing. This paragraph concludes, “There can be no synodality without an ecumenical dimension.”
Paragraph 7c joins “a commitment to the service of those experiencing poverty,” with “processes for repentance and healing of memory.” “Therefore, it is important that ecumenism is practiced first and foremost in daily life.”
The members then observed “In not a few regions of the world there is an ‘ecumenism of blood’, stemming from Christians of different affiliations who give their lives for faith in Jesus Christ” (7d).
After noting that “Collaboration among all Christians is crucial in addressing the pastoral challenges of our time,” especially in “secularized societies” (7e), the document addresses a situation affecting more and more Christians: “interchurch marriages,” explaining they “may constitute realities in which the wisdom of communion can mature, and it is possible to evangelize each other” (7f).
After these six “Convergences,” the authors propose four “Matters for Consideration (g-j). Synodality in the Orthodox Churches and “other ecclesial communities” enriched the debates and “requires further investigation” (7g).
“Ongoing ecumenical dialogues have provided a better understanding, in light of the practices of the first millennium, of the fact that synodality and primacy are related, complementary and inseparable realities,” referring to St. John Paul II’s ecumenical encyclical Ut unum sint, (in which he offered the service of the papacy to other Christian Churches, modifying it for their need: 7h).
Since it affects the growing number of interchurch marriages, 7i needs to be quoted in its entirety:
“We need to examine the issue of Eucharistic hospitality (Communicatio in sacris) from theological, canonical and pastoral perspectives in the light of the link between sacramental and ecclesial communion. This issue is of particular importance to inter-church couples. It raised the need for a broader reflection on inter-church marriages.”
Let us give a shout out here to Rev. Martin Reardon and his wife Dr. Ruth Reardon, both now deceased. Along with Father John Coventry, they spear headed this effort through the Association of Inter-Church Families (click here for their Oblate friendship, www.omiusa.org, Oct. 8, 2015). In Oblate parishes and at our retreat centers, this matter of Eucharistic Hospitality is of prime importance.
The fourth and final matter for consideration presents ” ‘non-denominational’ communities and Christian-inspired ‘revival’ movements, which are also joined in large numbers by faithful who were originally Catholic” (7j). This vast subject includes Taize, Iona and Focolare, whose Catholics are still faithful, with Focolare having a special place for Muslims. Then groups such as Richard Foster’s Renovare, in which Catholics retain membership while adapting practices from other Christian Churches. And finally, there are groups such as the late Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship, in which Catholics drop their allegiance.
About every fifteen years, the Vatican invites all these renewal groups to come and meet in Rome; many respond.
Section 7 concludes with 5 proposals (k-o). All easily attained the 75 percent approval of the voting members of the synod. K and l both concern the year 2025, with k recommending that since it is the anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 325 AD), “a common commemoration of this event will help us to better understand how in the past controversial questions were discussed and resolved together in Council.” L notices that the date for Easter will coincide in 2025 for all Churches and Christian communities. “The Assembly expressed a keen desire to come to a common date for the feast of Easter so that we can celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, our life and our salvation, on the same day.”
M reinforced the role of the fraternal delegates: “There is also a desire to continue to involve Christians of other Churches and ecclesial traditions in Catholic synodal processes at all levels and to invite more fraternal delegates to the next session of the Assembly in 2024.” L contines this attention: “A proposal has been put forward by some to convene an ecumenical Synod on common mission in the contemporary world.” The final proposal, o, refers back to “ecumenism of blood” (7d) above: “It was also proposed that we might devise an ecumenical martyrology.”
It is disappointing that Eucharistic Hospitality did not receive a proposal. This probably means that the Assembly did not think it would receive a 75% majority vote. But at least this crucial, pastoral matter did make the “Considerations” above.
When the document examines “The Bishop of Rome in the College of Bishops,” (#13), it states “Promoting the unity of all Christians is an essential aspect of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. The ecumenical journey has deepened understanding of the ministry of the successor of Peter and must continue to do so in the future. Responses to the invitation made by St. John Paul II in the encyclical Ut unum sint, as well as the conclusions of ecumenical dialogues, can help the Catholic understanding of primacy, collegiality, synodality, and their mutual relationships” (b).
Unfortunately, when the document presents Bishops, Clergy, and Consecrated Life, no mention is made of ecumenism as “an essential aspect.” But when it examines “A synodal approach to formation” (#14), the Assembly requested “conducting ecumenical and interreligious dialogue” as one of the nine areas required (#e).
For Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the emphasis that “Rather than saying the Church has a mission, we affirm that the Church ‘is’ mission” (#8) means that ecumenism is a vital and essential part of mission and the Church. May every Oblate work so that Christian Unity becomes a deeper part of our mission.
On Oct. 25, the Synod participants sent a short, 2 1/2-page “Letter of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God.” This statement, full of the Holy Spirit, contains many of the elements presented above.
November 20, 2023
Many thanks to all who commented on the Oct. 18 Five Ways e-letter. Below is an item on the Dorothy Day of France, Madeleine Delbrel, a member of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate Family, praised recently by Pope Francis.
As part of our efforts to evangelize, Pope Francis is urging Catholics to dialogue with members of other religions. At the same time, Dialogue respects the integrity of these religions. An Oblate, Father Jack Lau, has been very involved with this. You may pull up the Mission-Unity-Dialogue website (www.harrywinter.org) and scroll down to his article “Interfaith Journey: Reflection into the Path of Wonder.” Many thanks to Jack for this article, with its beautiful photos.
Pope Francis will take part in COP28, the Global Faith Leaders Summit being held in the United Arab Emirates, Dec. 1-3. This summit will address the escalating climate change. Let us keep him and all the participants in prayer.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23, may we each deepen our attitude of gratitude.
In Christ’s love,
Fr. Harry Winter, O.M.I.
October 18, 2023
Many thanks to those who responded to the Sept. 25 e-letter, regarding the booklet on Synodality as a Pandora’s Box. As I noted in that e-letter, the Synod would begin on Sept. 30, with a unique ecumenical service on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. That 45-minute service is below and well worth our consideration. The Taize hymns are very moving.
Secondly, the Jesuits, in their coverage of the Synod, have emphasized the role of women. See below.
With October the month of the Holy Rosary, we have plenty to ask Mary to intercede with her Son: the Synod, the war in the Ukraine and the war in Israel.
With God’s blessings,
Fr. Harry Winter, O.M.I.
As I write this, participants in the Synod on Synodality are having their final discussions on the theme of mission. The question they are tasked with addressing is: “How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?” The conversation has focused largely on women, including women’s ordination to the diaconate.
In his introduction to this section, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich drew attention to the question of gender right away: “Most of us are men. But men and women receive the same baptism and the same Spirit. The baptism of women is not inferior to the baptism of men. How can we ensure that women feel they are an integral part of this missionary church?” He challenged participants, most of whom are ordained men, to examine whether they feel “enriched or threatened” when sharing responsibility for the church’s mission with women.
Only 54 of the synod’s 365 voting members are women: a historic number, but certainly not anything near gender parity. In the synod hall, it shakes out to one or two women and 10-12 men at each table.
Outside the Vatican, several groups advocating for greater inclusion of women in ministerial roles in the church have held events in recent weeks. Speaking with a few of the organizers, it is clear that these (mostly) women support Pope Francis’ effort to incorporate more women into the synod, even in the face of internal resistance from some clerics. But, they say, having one or two women per table is not enough.
The women who are in the hall, though—Catholicism’s first “synod mothers”—are extremely qualified. We have heard from other synod participants that the women are some of the most hardworking members; many are experts in synodality, and they have contributed powerful testimonies in the synod’s open discussions.
At a Vatican press conference yesterday, my colleague Zac Davis asked Patricia Murray, I.B.V.M., the secretary of the International Union of Superiors General, whether the women in the synod hall felt they were heard, despite being in the minority. Sister Murray replied as any tough nun might: “We have been well able to make our point and use our time and space well.”
As the synod turns its sights to its third major theme of participation tomorrow, the question of women’s role in the church’s evangelizing mission will, without a doubt, remain at the forefront.
Colleen Dulle is an associate editor at America and co-hosts the “Inside the Vatican” podcast.
More synod news:
Two bishops from mainland China who have been participating in the Synod on Synodality with the help of translators left the synod early, after having been given special permission from the Chinese government to travel to the gathering. Vatican spokesman Paolo Ruffini said the two had to return due to “pastoral needs” in their dioceses.
Tomorrow, Oct. 18, the synod begins its fourth “module” on participation. The section will begin with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a public “general congregation” in which Cardinal Hollerich will frame the conversation and some synod members will deliver initial reflections to the group.
During his Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis praises Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl’s life as epitomizing apostolic zeal and calls on the faithful to imitate the way she shared the joy of faith with others.
To learn more about Madeline Delbrêl’s life, check out this article from The Catechetical Review.
By Fr. Jack Lau, OMI
The question asked of me many times while at Aanmodaya Ashram (an ashram is a hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat found in South Asia), an Oblate Ashram in Kanchipuram, India was, why are you here? “Why are you, a westerner here at this ashram which we find difficult to live in?” And I would tell them a story of how at 5 or 6, I had a photo of the Buddha in my room and by 11, incense was burning before him. Needless to say; I was not an ordinary first grader. But that answer usually ended the conversation. I continue to ponder that answer, for there is a part of me that is drawn to Asia and to the temples of Asia.
My first experience was in traveling to Thailand in 2004. I stayed with the Oblates and traveled about with them. I remember going to the juniorate and going on a class trip to a local temple. I was excited and my eyes were open, and my heart was already there. Yet the students, probably all about 18 or 19 were shocked that we were going to a temple. For they were taught at home not to go to other places of worship, much like in the U.S. before the 1960s & 70s. Yet the Oblates of Thailand understood well the power of the culture to open up the heart. So, among the Oblates, prayer and the church environment, reflected the prayer at the temple. All were seated on the floor and the soles of one’s feet never faced the teacher or the image of the Holy. As a foreigner one learns by looking, observing, asking when necessary and making plenty of innocent mistakes. What I saw in Thailand was a Catholicism that looked as if Jesus grew up in Thailand.
That experience surely touched me for while helping-out at an Eco program at the Novitiate, one of the General Councilors (Oswald Firth, OMI, from Sri Lanka) came through. My demeanor must have stood out to him. He said to me, “you ought to spend a considerable amount of time at the Oblate Ashram in India.” At that time, I had already been instructing numerous yoga classes in Buffalo, Minnesota and was practicing Yoga while studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
I arrived in Chennai India early in the morning to the warm greetings of the Provincial House. After a couple of hours of sleep there was an early mass and breakfast. I was shown my place, which had a fork, spoon, and knife all in place. Then I looked around and no one was using utensils. The right hand was all you needed! And so “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” And yes, the food was different and spicier than I was used to. No cereal or café au lait!
It was that morning I meet Joseph Samarakone, OMI; director/guru/teacher/Acharya of Aanmodaya Ashram, a ministry of the Oblate Province of India. Sam, as I called him, was an imposing caricature. He seemed tall, though I was taller, he was large framed draped in orange, a white full beard and blue piercing eyes. His voice was deep and commanding. That afternoon we jumped into a jeep and drove about 1 hour to Kanchipuram-“City of a thousand temples”. I arrived, was blessed by the women of the ashram . I had a tour of the ashram and then I was shown my hut/dwelling. It had electricity, a bathroom, and I brought with me the mosquito net which I hung up with dental floss! What more could one want.
I came to realize quickly that I would be spending between 5 to 7 hours a day in the temple sitting. At first it was in the round teaching centre with the statue of the seated Jesus (Sat Guru/Supreme Teacher) in the front. After about 7 months the temple which was under construction was completed and blessed by the Superior General. What I experienced is that God speaks through cultures, through the lives of the people and their sacred texts. So, each day we would be reading from a variety of text. Friday was usually the Sufi Mystics. Saturday was from the Jewish Mystics and on the other days we read from the Christian mystics and the Sages and Saints from around the world. God is still speaking! Being in the State of Tamil Nadu where the Shivite experience/expression of Hindu culture was prominent we would read and ponder daily the local Shivite saints. Manikkavachaka was the sage that Sam would recite daily. One day, the electricity went out and he continued by memory the entire text. Sam was passionate and brilliant, and he shared with me his love of sacred scripture from around the world. (There are YouTube of his talks on-line) I continue to read and ponder these sacred texts throughout the week and often use them in my sermons. I am drawn to the Upanishads for their poetry, clarity, and rootedness in the human experience. “Hear, O children of immortal bliss! You are born to be united with the Lord. Follow the path of the illumined ones and be united with the Lord of Life.” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:5)
An important moment in my journey was a visit to the Sikh Golden Temple, a gurdwara located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. I spent the day walking around the large pool on hot white marble. I asked a group of young people; “who can go in the pool?” They said anyone can in the pool. So, I continued to walk and then I said, “what makes this water any different than the Jordan, the Tiber or even Lourdes”? And with that I plunged myself in, and a woman near me handed me her little boy. I will hold that moment and memory close to my heart and allow it to guide my way. I have carried these many experiences with me into the cave of my heart.
This past month (Sept 2023) I was able to attend an Oblate Ordination in Colombo Sri Lanka. Much can be said, yet to drive through the city streets, and walk along country paths I could see shrines with the Buddha and his disciples, Jesus, Mary, and Anthony of Padua through-out the country. As one looking in from the outside, the spiritual essence of the country was present and at least for me was not oppressive but inviting. I saw a lived faith reality in the temples and shrines. I saw it in homes with statues of both the Sacred Heart and the Buddha. The author and contemporary prophet of our time, Thich Nhat Hahn (d.2022) would see, “Jesus and Buddha as brothers”.
The moment of profound stirring was my visit to Seba Seth Gedera, an faith community founded by Oblate Michael Rodrigo, OMI -Martyr. (d. 10 Nov 1987) (On the OMI MUD page there are links to Michael Rodrigo’s OMI, writings)
Michael was about respecting individuals and lifting them up while celebrating their experience and faith. He was not there to impose a colonial church upon the people, in fact he was not there to build a “church”. Rather he was there to build the kindom (I purposely use the word ‘kindom’ for it reflects to me family relationships rather than the word kingdom that reflect to patriarchy and power) through dialogue, hard work, and radical relationships. Michael was also known for his knowledge of local healing herbs and vegetation. He was highly respected by the local Buddhist monasteries and was invited to teach (dharma talks).
As I walked into the small chapel, I fell to my knees in the place where his shattered body laid. I had read about him and seen the gruesome photos, but being there was something very different. Michael’s path into the kindom reality is one in which the Oblate family might study and be challenged by. It is about presence, respect and a radical “oneing” within all of humanity and all of creation. (LSi#91) “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”
This past year I have been participating in a Buddhist / Catholic Dialogue regarding the environment sponsored by the World Parliament of Religion. Laudato Si states (225) Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived our authentically, it is reflected in a balance lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to the deeper understanding of life.
As I continued to study and pray with the text of the deep wisdom of the world and the more that I see/read and take in, I see a common tap root. Richard Rohr, OFM, writes: “The recurring theme of all religions is a sympathy, empathy, connection, capacity between the human and the divine – that we were made for union with one another. They might express this through different rituals, doctrines, dogmas, or beliefs, but at the higher levels they are talking about the same goal. And the goal is always union with the divine.”
Thank you for the invitation to share a bit of my story as I continue to sit in and be present to the Word that is reflected throughout all of creation.