(DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA, USA – December 16, 2021)
Participants from around the world gathered December 6-10 for the Baptist-Catholic International Dialogue, a series of strategic bilateral conversations between the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). These meetings represented Phase III of the international dialogue, which experienced a hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Implementing a hybrid meeting format, this year’s participants were able to complete the fourth annual session in the five-year series.
The full Joint Commission met virtually on Monday, December 6, and Friday, December 10. From December 7-9, two working groups from the commission pursued a common agenda, which was developed in complementary ways related to their respective meeting formats. A North American working group consisting of commission members from Jamaica, USA, and Canada (joined virtually by commission members from Argentina) met in Durham, North Carolina, where they were hosted by Duke Divinity School and its Baptist House of Studies. A virtual working group hosted by the PCPCU met during the same dates with participation by commission members from Australia, India, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Poland.
“In an increasingly divided world, it is vitally important for the Christian traditions to find ways to work together across their divisions to offer a common witness to their Lord Jesus Christ ‘so that the world may believe’ (John 17:21),” said Commission Member Rev. Dr. Steven R. Harmon. “The embodied relationships forged in the work of ecumenical conversations are at least as important to the quest for Christian unity as the more ‘official’ dimensions of the dialogue, so we were especially grateful that some of us were able to renew our growing friendships in person, even as we are also grateful for the technology that enabled us to collaborate with our colleagues in other parts of the world in time zones from Melbourne to Mumbai to Rome.”
The Baptist delegation was led by co-chair Rev. Dr. Frank Rees, Associate Professor and Chair of the Academic Board at the University of Divinity in Australia, and the Catholic delegation was led by co-chair Bishop Arthur Serratelli, Bishop Emeritus of Paterson, New Jersey, USA. The dialogue was centered on the theme of “Forms of Common Witness,” giving attention to recognizing ways in which Baptists and Catholics have already been engaging in a shared witness to the dynamic of the Gospel and envisioning ways in which the two communions might more intentionally and more fully collaborate in offering the world a common witness to Christ.
This discussion built on the first meeting’s consideration of “Sources of Common Witness” in Waco, Texas, USA, in 2017. The second meeting drew representatives from six continents and took place in Rome, Italy, in 2018 with a focus on the “Contexts of Common Witness.” The third meeting convened in Warsaw, Poland, in 2019 and examined “Challenges to Common Witness.” These sub-themes are dimensions of the overall theme of the third phase of dialogue: “The Dynamic of the Gospel and the Witness of the Church.” The Baptist-Catholic joint commission will meet annually through 2022 for this third phase of conversations.
The Baptist delegation for this year’s meeting consisted of members and persons specially invited as observers. Participating in this round of conversations were Rev. Dr. Paul S. Fiddes (UK), Dr. Derek Hatch (USA), Rev. Dr. Glenroy Lalor (Jamaica), Rev. Dr. Tomás Mackey (Argentina), Dr. Elizabeth Newman (USA), Rev. Dr. Lina Toth (Lithuania/UK), observers Dr. Valérie Duval-Poujol (France), Rev. Dr. Curtis Freeman (USA), and BWA Director of Integral Mission Rev. Everton Jackson (Jamaica/USA).
The Catholic delegation consisted of members Dr. Peter Casarella (USA), Rev. Dr. Stephen Fernandes (India), Rev. Dr. William Henn OFM Cap. (Italy), Rev. Prof. Przemslaw Kantyka (Poland), Sr. Dr. Marie-Hélène Robert NDA (France), Rev. Dr. Jorge A. Scampini OP (Argentina), and Sr. Dr. Susan Wood SCL (USA).
The secretaries for the co-chairs are Rev. Dr. Steven R. Harmon, Professor of Historical Theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, USA on behalf of the BWA and Msgr. Juan Usma Gómez on behalf of the PCPCU. Msgr. Usma Gómez succeeded Rev. Avelino González-Ferrer as Catholic Co-Secretary for the dialogue in July 2021.
This year’s gathering is the continuation of a longstanding commitment to dialogues. A first phase of international conversations took place from 1984-1988, resulting in a report in 1990 titled “Summons to Witness to Christ in Today’s World.” A second phase of the conversations met from 2006 through 2010 and produced a report in 2013 titled “The Word of God in the Life of the Church.”
“Dialoguing with other Christian World Communions is in keeping with Jesus’ priestly prayer that we be one as he and his Father are One. The current dialogue between Baptists and Catholics is a reflection of this as both sides do not only seek to develop better theological understanding but to also find practical ways to collaborate as God’s missional people,” said Rev. Jackson.
He continued, “Christian dialogue is guided by the principles of mutual respect and tolerance and an awareness that no single Christian communion is the subtotal of the Body of Christ, but just a part as demonstrated by Paul in his usage of the symbol of the body in 1 Corinthians 12. It is the conviction of Baptists that we belong to the universal church, and as such should at all times strive to develop better understanding and working relationships with other Christian communions. In so doing, we are able to present to a fragmented world a placard of unity despite our diversity.”
The Joint Commission will hold its next meeting from December 12-16, 2022, in Rome, Italy (barring any unforeseen developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic) and will be hosted by the PCPCU.