May 2020

Companions on our journey of ecumenism

During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in this time of pandemic, my thoughts go to those who have been part of the ecumenical journey, writes Sister Elizabeth Delaney.

This year, between Sunday 24 May and Sunday 30 May, churches in Australia and other countries in the southern hemisphere will celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Celebrated between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, it is likely that we will still not be able to gather together.

In this time of pandemic, our thoughts can wander to years gone by, to the paths we have travelled and to those who have been part of our journey. We can also reflect on those who have gone before us, those who have lived – and suffered – through difficult times. My thoughts go to those who have been part of the journey of ecumenism.

While there are many who have made the ecumenical journey, I recall five people.

James Haldane Stewart

Although born in Boston Massachusetts, James Haldane Stewart was educated in England. After studying law, he joined the Church of England and was ordained a priest. For the next 47 years, he ministered in parishes in Berkshire, London, Liverpool and Surry. From 1820 he became a strong advocate for prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit and published Hints for the General Union of Christians for the Outpouring of the Spirit. So, recognising this work of the Spirit, he took early steps on the ecumenical journey 200 years ago.

George Spencer

The youngest son of the second Earl of Spencer, George Spencer (a distant relative of Princes William and Harry), studied divinity at Oxford and was ordained a priest in the Anglican communion. While ministering in a parish, he further explored his faith, and through studying the early church Fathers and after conversations with Catholic priests, he was moved to leave the Church of England and join the Catholic Church. He travelled to Rome where, after further study, he was ordained a priest. He returned to England and ministered with Irish migrants in the West Midlands.

In 1840 he proposed a Crusade of Prayer for the Conversion of England. Several years later, George Spencer joined the Passionist congregation taking the name Fr Ignatius of St Paul CP. Until his death while walking from the railway station to a friend’s house in Carstairs, Scotland, he encouraged all to pray for unity in truth. His cause for sainthood has been introduced.

Lewis Wattson

Lewis Wattson’s father was a priest in the Episcopal Church and Lewis also was ordained an Episcopal priest. In 1899, with some friends, he established the Franciscan Friars of Atonement and took the name Paul. The society was committed to the ministry of ”at-one-ment”, that is, prayer and work for the reconciliation of Christians and their churches, making them at-one, reflecting the gift of unity given by Christ to his Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. In 1908 Father Paul Wattson SA, with his Anglican friend, Fr Spencer Jones, began the Christian Unity Octave between the feast of St Peter’s Chair (January 18) and the conversion of St Paul (January 25).

The following year, 1909, the whole group of the Franciscan Friars of Atonement, together with the Sisters of Atonement, were received into the Catholic Church. Very soon after this momentous step, Pope Pius X approved the prayer and in 1916 Pope Benedict XV extended it to the whole Catholic Church. In 2014 the US Conference of Bishops endorsed the cause for sainthood of Fr Paul Wattson, who died in 1940 and has become known as the Apostle of Unity.

Paul Couturier

Paul Couturier was born at Lyons, France, in 1881. When aged three, his father’s business failed, and the family went to Algeria. After nine years, the family was able to return to Lyons and Paul attended the school of the Vincentian Priests (known as Lazarists). Deciding at 18 to become a priest he joined the Society of the Priests of St Irenaeus. Ordained in 1906, he completed a licentiate in Physical Sciences. Although not successful as a teacher, especially with the younger boys, in obedience he continued to teach.

Between 1920 and 1938, Abbé Paul Couturier spent a month with a friend teaching the daughter of the family. Whereas Paul Couturier had been formed in right-wing politics and conservative Catholicism, his friend had been formed in the democratic movement and greatly influenced by the sociology of Leo XIII. Influenced also by a Jesuit with whom he made his annual retreat, Paul Couturier came to learn the primacy of love. From this he came to care for Russian émigrés. Encountering Orthodox Christians for the first time, he came to see the need for Christian unity. His prayer became that the visible unity of the Kingdom of God may be such as Christ wills and achieved by whatever means he wills.

Octavo Beauduin

Born in 1873, and ordained a diocesan priest, Octavo Beauduin commenced his ministry as a worker priest, before joining the Benedictine monastery of Mont César in Leuven in 1906, taking the name of Lambert. His prior, Dom Columba Marmion, and the liturgist, Prosper Guéranger influenced him greatly. Lambert Beauduin taught liturgy and in 1921 was appointed to Sant’ Anselmo University in Rome. There, he met Eastern Christians.

What may well have begun as incidental meetings led to his founding the bi-ritual monastery at Amay, Belgium, in 1926. Then involved, albeit from a distance, in the Malines Conversations, his openness to Anglican Orders attracted the disapproval of his superiors with the result that in 1931 he was required to leave Amay and forbidden to return to Belgium. This period of exile lasted 20 years. In those years he worked in Paris and was one of the co-founders of the renowned Centre for Pastoral Liturgy in Paris.

His exile ended in 1951 when he was able to return to his monastery, now located in Chevetogne where he died in 1960. At the monastery at Amay he became friends with Archbishop Roncali, later Pope John XXIII whom he met again during his time of exile. Pope John is reputed to have said that he owed his ecumenical vocation to Dom Lambert Beauduin. He died before Vatican II commenced, but after Pope John XXIII announced it!

Each of these people has lived values that are truly Benedictine. Even in these too brief outlines we can recognise: listening to and praying with the Word of God, openness to conversion, unhesitating obedience, even under difficult conditions, readiness to serve the needy, good zeal, humility, love of the liturgy …

While recognising the significant contribution of each of these people, the obvious question arises: where are the women in the ecumenical journey? Obviously, there are many – both over the years and today. Australian Church Women and the World Day of Prayer, celebrated in March, actively engage women across Australia and around the world. Perhaps Good Samaritans sisters, associates and friends might continue the journey, especially during this Week of Prayer, the theme of which is, ‘The natives showed us unusual kindness” (Acts, 28:2).

Prayer, the fundamental cosmic force of creation, is found in its completeness in Christ as he prayed for Unity. … He desires us to share this prayer with him, for all Christians share his Life. – Paul Couturier


Elizabeth Delaney

Elizabeth Delaney's ecumenical journey began when she was in secondary school and the local Baptist minister returned the rosary beads that she had dropped. She served as Executive Secretary for the Catholic Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Relations and as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia. She serves on the NSW Unit of Australian Church Women, which she represents on the NSW branch of the World Day of Prayer Australia.

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