The Whole is Greater than its Parts

Last week, a group of international scholars met at Notre Dame’s Global Gateway in Rome for a three-day conference entitled, “The Whole is Greater than its Parts: Christian Unity and Interreligious Encounter today.” It being the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I thought it appropriate to highlight a few ideas from the conference that might be of interest PrayTell readers.

The conference opened with a presentation by Dr. Peter Casarella from Notre Dame about Pope Francis’ approach to interreligious and ecumenical dialogue according to his Teologia del Pueblo. He noted that for Pope Francis, the relationship between the whole (unity) and its parts (diversity) is modeled upon a polyhedron which is clearly a whole with discernible parts rather than a sphere with a distinct center. A polyhedron retains its originality but its parts cannot attribute the whole to itself. Further, the model is augmented by four principles: 1) time is greater than space; 2) unity prevails over conflict; 3) reality is more important than ideas; 4) the whole is greater than its parts. Harmony is not merely equality, but a tower of babel that brings forth a new Pentecost which reverberates beyond the church.

J. Jayakiran Sebastian of United Theological Seminary discussed, “Revitalizing the Fading Ecumenical Memory and Reenergizing the Promise of our Ecumenical Future,” asking if Ecumenism be taught. Yes, was his answer (of course.) By being intentionally ecumenical in one’s pedagogy, it is possible to raise ecumenical awareness and foster an ecumenical sense in students. He also cited WCC’s Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) and other documents from the faith and order commission as crucial for this purpose. Along similar lines, Jennifer Hevelone-Harper of Gordon College emphasized visiting other churches and sharing in social justice ministries with as ways of encountering others from another tradition.

Lastly, Bishop Brian Ferrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity spoke about the state of and approach to ecumenical dialogue. For Pope Francis, he said, the “dialogue of life” and recognition of diversity as a good are essential for ecumenism. He added that working toward the “purification of memories” could be a way forward today. During the Q&A, the question of intercommunion between couples in mixed marriages arose. In response to the question, the bishop affirmed the pastoral shift that Pope Francis had made but also emphasized the need to educate priests about what that actually means. He stressed that many seem to want a clear policy that could be applied to all; this is not possible. What is needed is the ability to pastorally respond to every couple’s unique situation.

A full report and abstracts of presentations can be found here.

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