What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: January 25, 2007
Last Saturday I was inducted into the Order of St. Lazarus, an international fraternal military and hospital order that is nearly nine centuries old. This association, like many other ecclesial groups, was initially founded to perform works of charity—in the case of St. Lazarus they were caregivers for those people with leprosy. In addition they were encouraged to promote spiritual and fraternal association among their members. What does distinguish this order, however, is that it continues as an ecumenical organization embracing members from many different churches. I was honored to be invited to join the association and very grateful that they accommodated my unruly calendar with this induction ceremony.
As many of you already know, I was not born into a Catholic family but joined the Church when I was enrolled in a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Even though I was very young when I converted to Catholicism, I proudly do claim my heritage as a convert. The work of ecumenism is therefore an important Church activity for me and I also hope for all of you as well. Thus this Order of St. Lazarus held a special intrigue for me, personally.
We are in the midst of the Church Unity Octave, and all of us are invited to keep the work of ecumenism in our prayers during this special time of the year. The Church in North Georgia has an important investment in the ecumenical dialogue because we live in a rich Christian environment but as a minority Christian presence. Most of our neighbors and fellow Christians may very well not be Catholics. Many of them may not have an accurate knowledge of Catholicism. Many others may not have many Catholics within their friendship circles. It is our responsibility to help them understand more about Catholicism, and we in turn need to learn more about the other Christian denominations with whom we share Georgia as a common home. There are far too many misconceptions on both sides of that challenge.
Each year at this time, Christians everywhere are invited to share eight days of prayerful reflection and personal conversation on the need for unity among the Christian churches. We must also ask the Lord’s forgiveness for the sins of intolerance, misunderstanding, hatred, and even violence that Christians have inflicted upon one another over the ages often in the name of Christ. Such hostility and loathing are a blight on the Body of Christ and are a great embarrassment for all those who claim to belong to Jesus Christ.
In preparation for my remarks at the conclusion of the induction service, I discovered a wonderful entreaty that was offered by Cardinal Mercier, the Cardinal Archbishop of Malines-Brussels in Belgium, at the turn of the last century. It sums up what the task of ecumenism must be for all of us: “In order to unite with one another, we must love one another; in order to love one another, we must know one another; in order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.”
As we observe the Church Unity Octave, let us all take Cardinal Mercier’s admonition to heart and seek to find ways to bring Christians together in mutual harmony and affection throughout North Georgia—now the home of far too many Christians who may not know very much about or even love one another. This is surely a matter of no little concern for the Lord Jesus Christ!