By Ann Marie Foley - 17 October, 2019
For the first time ever Northern Ireland is hosting an international ecumenical meeting of Christian bishops and church leaders. The 33 bishops from 20 different churches in 17 countries meet in Larne and Belfast from 21 to 25 October.
Bishop Brendan Leahy, Diocese of Limerick, will be among those participating. He told CatholicIreland.net that he is delighted the meeting is coming to Ireland.
The experience of unity that the bishops have in coming together from different countries around the world is relevant for Ireland, and Belfast in particular, according to Bishop Leahy, who added: ‘Maybe in our own little way we can offer a witness in Belfast to the unity that we try to promote and keep among ourselves in what is a divided world, not just in Belfast but all over the world.’
This annual meeting involves collaboration between Christians, and has been promoted for 38 years by the *Focolare Movement, an international group with a presence in Belfast, Dublin and Kildare and with members all across Ireland.
‘We are very excited. We hope it will be a moment of grace for us here in the North and for all of Ireland as well,’ Manuel McGivern, spokesperson for Focolare told CatholicIreland.net ahead of the meeting.
He added that the meeting is usually held in parts of the world where there is ecumenical activity. The Focolare in Ireland, and in particular in Belfast, is involved in this, often behind the scenes. People from several denominations meet and work together. The Rev Ken Newall, a Presbyterian pastor, joined the Focolare for a summer meeting in Italy and spoke about his work with the late Fr Gerry Reynolds at the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship in Belfast (see CatholicIreland.net of 24 July 2019).
At the meeting next week the bishops will learn about the local ecumenical journey, share their own experiences of the Gospel and explore the unifying potential of Christ’s words, ‘Where two or more meet in my name, I am there among them’ (Mt 18:20). This year’s theme is: ‘In a divided world, united in Christ’.
Bishop Leahy said that the bishops and leaders who attend will share and reflect together on the theme. ‘We want to reflect particularly on what does unity in Christ mean as we speak to a divided world,’ he said.
This is Bishop Leahy’s seventh such meeting. He attended before in places including Istanbul, Rome and Augsburg in Germany. He expects to be joined at this Northern Irish event by the Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of the Dublin Catholic Archdiocese.
Bishop Trevor Williams, Church of Ireland retired Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, a frequent attendee, will also be there. He said: ‘Instead of having to compose an elegant document on what we have agreed, we are free to listen intently to one another. It is my experience that from this deep sharing a real experience of Christian Unity is possible. This is truly inspirational. We leave renewed in our commitment to our unity in Christ which transcends our many differences.’
Bishop Michael Mulvey, Catholic Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, attended the meeting in Sweden last year and said that the bishops of different churches came together to pray, to sit at meals together, and speak about normal things as well as about the Church and their faith in Jesus Christ.
‘That should say to people, young and old, that there is a possibility for change. There is hope on the horizon,’ he said.
The bishops will have a session in Larne with those engaged in dialogue in Ireland. This includes the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Moravian, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Armenian Churches, and bodies such as the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
In Belfast the bishops will meet a range of people from Ireland and there will be three services:
-Tue 22 Oct 5:30 p.m. Lutheran Service, Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, University St
-Thurs 24 Oct 5:30 p.m. Choral Evensong at St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral
-Thurs 24 Oct 6:30 p.m. Ecumenical Prayer Service, St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Donegall St
* The Focolare Movement is active internationally in ecumenical, inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue aimed at building a more united world in which all people are valued and respected, and is inspired by Jesus’ prayer to the Father, ‘May they all be one’ (Jn 17:21).