During the service, prayers and hymns — such as the entrance song, “In Christ There is No East or West” — reflected a desire for unity among Christians.
View photo slideshow
To view a slideshow of photos from the ecumenical prayer service, go to this link.
A prayer of repentance, offered by Rev. Lind, asked God for forgiveness for followers of Christ who “persist in our disunity.”
In his homily, Bishop Ricken noted that the prayer service was held on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul and that the Christian Unity Week’s theme was from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“It is (Christ’s) victory that will transform all of us, no matter what division and upheaval we may be experiencing,” said Bishop Ricken. “We must continue to grow in holiness as God’s people as we embrace Jesus Christ through his saving word and living presence through our new life in baptism.”
He noted that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to 1908 and the ecumenical initiative received the blessing of Pope Pius X and Pope Benedict XV. He said the current pope, Benedict XVI, “has made ecumenism, or unity of all Christians, a top priority.”
Christian unity “requires conversion — both communal and personal,” said Bishop Ricken, quoting the pope.
“Pope Benedict reminds us that prayer is the primary way of attaining full communion among all Christians, which is happening in stages as we already proclaim the same word of God through the Scriptures.”
A year ago, Bishop Ricken said he and Bishops Jacobus and Justman, along with Wisconsin Council of Churches executive director the Rev. Scott Anderson, met to discuss ecumenical issues raised by Pope Benedict. A few weeks later, he met with another group of Christian leaders.
These gatherings helped to build a foundation “of coming to understand one another so that we can work together in our joint efforts toward evangelization, which goes hand-in-hand with working toward Christian unity,” said Bishop Ricken.
“With respect for our differences … we are striving to explore ways to continue our dialogue and move toward practical ways of joint Christian activities,” added the bishop. He reminded the audience, made up of representatives from many Christian denominations, that all that is done to foster unity “is really God’s work and mission.”
“We are called to participate in this work. Our unity is both grounded and sustained by God himself,” he said. “He calls us to never lose hope toward Christian unity amid any conflicts and setbacks we face.”
Bishop Ricken encouraged the congregation to “embrace anew Jesus Christ our savior and Lord as we live what we profess we are — in thought, word and deed.”
Several of the religious leaders in attendance said the ecumenical gathering was the first major step in exploring Christian unity.
“This was a real wonderful celebration of our unity in Christ Jesus,” said Rev. Wille, head of the Northeast Association, United Church of Christ. “I’m grateful to the cathedral and the Roman Catholic community here for opening their doors and allowing us to celebrate our unity in Christ.”
Rev. Lind, head of the Nicolet-Winnebago Regional Office of the United Methodist Church, said Bishop Ricken’s homily offered inspiration for his own sermon. “It’s great to be here and I hope we can continue this,” he added.
“We are delighted to have been involved,” said Rev. Moore-Nokes, leader of the Winnebago Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church. “I’m thrilled that we are taking a step in the northeast quadrant of the state to do this movement. I think it’s a wonderful move to be together.”
Fr. Jim Massart, ecumenical liaison for the Green Bay Diocese and prayer service coordinator, said he hoped the gathering is the start of a tradition and that another denomination would host the event next year.
“As Bishop Ricken tried to remind us, as we come together, hopefully we can expand some of our activities as we get to know each other and realize that we all want to embrace Christ.”
As he greeted guests moving into the Bishop Wycislo Center for a reception, Bishop Ricken said he was pleased with the service. “I thought it was a beautiful expression of unity as we unite ourselves more in Christ and seek his will. I think we made a good step forward.”