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United Methodist delegation visits Vatican

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A UMNS photo by the Rev. Doug Mills

Pope Benedict XVI gives a public audience, attended by United Methodists, April 26.
May 1, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

A United Methodist delegation met with Vatican officials in Rome to discuss future relations between the denomination and the Roman Catholic Church.

Representatives of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns also attended the April 26 outdoor public audience with Pope Benedict XVI and exchanged greetings with the pontiff.

During an April 25 meeting with Cardinal Walter Kasper and the staff of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the delegation discussed the international Methodist-Catholic dialogue sponsored by the World Methodist Council and the U.S. dialogue between United Methodists and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The United Methodist delegation presented several gifts to Kasper, including two volumes of the illuminated St. John’s Bible, signed by all the commission directors, and a copy of Introduction to World Methodism by Kenneth Cracknell and Susan J. White.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, the commission’s chief executive, noted that United Methodist concerns extend beyond U.S. borders.

“We talked about the fact that our church is global and that part of how we relate to each other has to reflect that,” he explained. The hope for the future “is that as we go forward there might be some way of coordinating or relating the two dialogues in significant ways.”

“They (Catholics) are probably trying to understand who we are in the context of an international framework because they don’t typically relate to a national church.” Pickens added. “I think our visit helped them begin to decipher what we’re struggling with as a church and that is what it means to be a global church.”

Assisting the understanding between United Methodists and Catholics in Europe is the fact that Kasper and United Methodist Bishop Walter Klaiber of Germany have known each other for about 40 years. In many ecumenical relationships, Pickens said, “it is those personal ties that make significant impact.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by the Rev. Doug Mills

An estimated 40,000 people attend the pope’s April 26 outdoor audience.

Klaiber served as co-chairman for the sixth round of the United Methodist-Roman Catholic dialogue, which explored similarities and differences in church structure and concluded in 2005. The series of dialogues dates back to 1965.

Bilateral dialogues between the World Methodist Council and Roman Catholic Church started in 1967, an outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council, and operate in five-year cycles.

Commission staff also had conversations with the Rev. Don Bolen, who oversees relations with Methodists and Anglicans for the Vatican staff, according to the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, a commission executive. One discussion point was about bringing a few participants from the Methodist-Catholic and United Methodist-Catholic dialogues together “as we begin to shape the agenda for the next round of dialogue,” he said.

Delegation members were given a private tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and the “scavi” — excavations of early Christian communities around St. Peter’s burial site. The pope greeted members of the group individually after his public address April 26.

The new pope “seems to be making a mark” after succeeding the popular John Paul II, Pickens said. He cited the pope’s recent decision to ask experts to prepare a statement on the use of condoms by married people with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases as a significant development.

Such a study shows that early speculations about Pope Benedict’s unwillingness to address contemporary issues “may have been misplaced,” Pickens said.

The delegation was led by Bishop Ann Sherer of Lincoln, Neb., commission president, Bishop Minerva Carcaņo of Phoenix and Bishop Gaspar Domingos of Angola. Other commission members on the delegation were Jerry Ruth Williams, Chesterfield, Mo.; Greg Stover, Cincinnati; Marianne Nieson, Helena, Mont.; Alan Combs, Durham, N.C.; Marcia Fitzner, Willard, N.M.; Dalila Cruz, Dallas; Allen Curtis Johnson, White Bluff, Tenn.; and staff members Pickens, Mills and Clare Chapman. Other commission directors on the trip were Sam Purushotham, Franklin,Tenn., and Ida Powell, Lynchburg, Va. Unofficial participants were Lyle Hamilton, Sophia Carcaņo and Don Reasoner.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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