Local News

Joint Theological Day meant to foster unity

By Katrina Genereux/Staff Writer, OND

Moorhead – More than 180 Catholic and Lutheran leaders gathered for a day of study and discussion on April 20. The Joint Theological Day was held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, and focused on a document titled “Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist”. The document was released by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It examines things held in common by both churches in the categories of church, ministry and Eucharist, as well as existing differences. The document concludes by suggesting ways to move forward toward unity.

For the second time, the Catholic Dioceses of Crookston and Fargo, and the Eastern North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America sponsored a day of study and dialogue. Priests, pastors and lay ministry leaders were invited to register for the daytime session. A free event was open to the public in the evening. Last year’s Joint Theological Day focused on Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si”.

This year, attendees heard from presenters Rev. Dr. Mark Hanson, the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Father John W. Crossin, a priest of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales who formerly served as Executive Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the USCCB. The presenters jointly facilitated two sessions during the day. The first focused on Catholic and Lutheran dialogue during the past 50 years. The second session focused on the document Declaration on the Way, and steps the churches can take to build and reconcile relationships with the ultimate goal of full communion. The document contains 32 statements of agreement between Lutherans and Catholics in the areas of church, ministry and Eucharist. It also contains 15 items of doctrinal difference in the same focus areas and considerations moving forward.

Catholics and Lutherans from each state were seated at round tables and given questions to discuss together throughout the presentations.

Father John Cox, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, is pastor of St. Ann’s, Waubun; St. Anne’s, Naytahwaush, and St. Frances Cabrini, Big Elbow Lake. He was part of the planning committee for the event.

“I think that we will leave here not only having learned about points of agreement in a dialogue … but with new relationships, new ministerial friends and some ideas for projects we can undertake together to advance the welfare of the people we serve in the Dakotas and Northwest Minnesota,” he said.

He is glad to have the opportunity to meet the Lutheran clergy serving in churches in the area of his parishes. He said in many small towns, churches are the only institutions available to support people as they deal with issues from water quality to a high percentage of unemployment to high cancer rates.

“I think we play a role as organized bodies rooted in the Gospel to not only be finding points of agreement in terms of power, authority and structure of the Church, but also in the faith that acts on behalf of people,” Father Cox said.

Father Craig Vasek, pastor of St. Patrick’s, Hallock and Holy Rosary, Lancaster, came to the event with a unique perspective. He has been assisting with pastoral care at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hallock since Good Friday 2016 in light of their being without a pastor.

“My desire from the very beginning – and I was very up front and frank about it – is that the Body of Christ be reunited fully,” Father Vasek said.

He brought a parishioner from St. Patrick’s and a member of Holy Trinity to the Joint Theological Day. He believes participating in the day will lead to further discussions.

“That’s already a conversation piece that, in a small town, is going to bear a lot of fruit,” Father Vasek said. “It’s going to stir people up to say, you know, these guys were going somewhere to talk about the Body of Christ coming back together … the fact that this day existed is something to bring home.”

Father Vasek said there are communal initiatives in the works among the churches he serves, including prayer, fellowship, summer catechism for youth and small group study.

“Jesus wants his Church to be one. It is the deepest desire of his heart and precisely because he wants it, it is possible. I am convinced of that,” Father Vasek said.

To read the Declaration on the Way, go to www.nwmnsynod.org/ontheway.