Lahore: June 3, 2017. (PCP) “It was a historical event when the leadership of the main four churches met during Easter season to strengthen the process of Easter and Ecumenism", Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw OFM Archbishop of Lahore and the chairman of National Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism (Catholic Bishops’ Conference Pakistan) was talking to some 70 religious leaders of the four mainline churches; Salvation Army, Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, Church of Pakistan diocese of Lahore and Raiwind and the Catholic Church.
This one day Church leadership conference was presided over by Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw OFM, whereas Bishop Irfan Jamil, Bishop Emeritus of Lahore, Dr. Alexander John Malik, Church of Pakistan and Dr. Majid Able; UP Church were the chief guests. The conference was organized at the Cathedral of the Resurrection by National Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism (NCIDE) along with Ecumenical Solidarity Committee Lahore (ESCL) and was hosted by Rev. Shahid Mehraj; Dean of the Cathedral of the Resurrection.
Archbishop Sebastian stressed that at the construction of the tower of Babel, people were proud and self-centered but at the time of Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and they were Christ-centered and were able to communicate to all people coming from different parts of the world. Referring to the past he said that soon after the Vatican II, efforts have been made to the Catholic Church and the Anglicans to be united in faith and express it.
He shared his personal experience when he was in Canterbury and Rome and the Pope and the Archbishop shared in the Vespers and the Roman Catholic Bishops and the Anglican Bishops were taken for the pilgrimage to Canterbury and Rome. It was faith enriching experience and they came close to each other, he said.
Archbishop appreciated the three annual programs of the Ecumenical Solidarity Committee Lahore. He urged and advised the Church Leaders work together to bring good news to our people and be the witnesses of this unity.
The olive tree was planted by the Church heads in the compound of the Bishop's house. At this occasion Fr. Francis Nadeem OFM Cap said that the NCIDE has planned to plant Olive trees in the national parks, madrassas, seminaries, church and religious places to promote dialogue and peace in the country and society.
After tree plantation Fr. Emmanuel Asi Catholic Theologian gave a talk about Easter and Ecumenism. In his talk Fr. Asi, while congratulating the ESCl, said that soon after Ascension and waiting for Pentecost, it was an appropriate time to organize such a leadership seminar. He said it is a historical fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead two thousand years ago and we celebrate it every year. The third is the second coming of Lord Jesus Christ. But the second point gives meaning to the first and the third. It depends on each person to live the resurrected Christ. The examples of the first disciples and St. Paul's journey give us a guideline to move forward and bring Jesus alive to people of our age.
He said that there are two main mysteries one is INCARNATION and the other one is RESURRECTION. In the Apostle’s Creed altogether 12 parts of the Apostles Creed are around these two mysteries. Easter is the beginning of our Mission. He is alive in me by breaking the walls of fear and hatred. The willingness to accept one another is the real Easter. We need to appreciate the good being done among other and neglect the negative elements found in the others.
Every act, he continued, which brings distance from the others is the death while promoting closeness in faith if the practice of Easter is carried on. Moses in the Old Testament said in Deut 30:11-19 to make a choice to choose life or death. We have to make daily the choice to choose life or promote death. It depends on each individual Christian. The renewal is indispensable for each era and age. If there is no renewal then the faith can become stagnant. Pope John XXIII called the Vatican II for the renewal and discuss new avenues of evangelization. The renewal has to constantly go on. He said that from 1850 to 1950 has been the century of renewal and soon after that Pope John XXIII opened Vatican II from 1962 to 1965. This Ecumenical Council had a broader vision and openness for the fresh air to come in.
He said to replace the Urdu word for Ittehad is Unity, while the word Wahdat has a broader meaning which should be practiced among the churches for effective inter-denominational dialogue. He said that the spirituality of discipleship has to be stressed in place of a temporary need of the hour.
He ended by saying to show respect to one another and to work together wherever possible for common projects and do not have fear of losing the faithful but they will be faithful wherever they belong. He said that what has happened in the past, we have not to remain there but continue to do our part in our age. Pope Francis has declared this year 2017 the year of forgiveness and acceptance. So let us celebrate Easter and Ecumenism together with joy, zeal, and zest.
After the main talk, an opportunity was given for questions and answers. These things were suggested:
1. To compile the lecture of Fr. Emmanuel Asi in a booklet form and circulate it to the heads of churches.
2. To invite other denominations in the annual gatherings of one another’s denomination.
3. For professional Wahdat provide opportunities to meet on different platforms.
4. To bring broadness in our General meeting.
Church of Pakistan Bishop Emeritus Ramal Shah of Peshawar diocese appreciated conducting the leadership seminar and expressed that “Ecumenism is my Passion”. It is in my blood and he asked the ESCL to include the lay experts in different fields as well. He also appreciated the works of the Holy Father regarding Interfaith Dialogue and Ecumenism.
Full Gospel Assembly Principal; Liaqat Qaiser congratulated the ESCL Committee and said he was attending this type of leadership seminar for the first time. History is in making he said that and expressed that there was a crisis in our leadership and we need to develop this closeness and communicate this event to others as well so that we may become effective heralds of the Easter of Jesus Christ.
Presbyterian Moderator Dr. Majeed Able lamented that sometimes we just talk in the meetings but do not promote this unity from our individual pulpits. We have to be real and sincere in this regard. We need to appreciate and find unity in diversity.
Major Salamat Masih, the divisional commander of Salvation Army appreciated the seminar of the leadership of four mainline churches. He said that the unity has to go to the grass roots level.
Bishop Irfan Jamil gave the Biblical reflection and stressed upon to follow the spirit of the Gospel to be one. Though we will remain different, he said, in administration but in faith we are one in Baptism and Eucharist. He said that theu nited efforts are bearing fruits and it will go on in future as well.
Bishop Emeritus of Lahore Dr. Alexander John Malik, being the old pioneer of unity process, gave a short history of the ecumenical process started in Pakistan. He said to continue to make efforts on different levels and by different people in several forums to come close in faith while respecting the differences of one another. He ended by saying that along with the religious activities we have to work together for the rights of our community as well.
Fr. Francis Nadeem OFM Cap, Executive Secretary of National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue & Ecumenism and the Custos of the Capuchins in Pakistan thanked Rev. Shahid P. Mairaj, the heads of denominations and the leaders of the Churches. He asked them to remain faithful to this unity. He said that as Fr. Asi introduced the word Wahdat, we shall also use it in our forthcoming programmes. While expressing his views he stressed that we should be close to our flock. People are facing so many problems and are living under fear in Pakistan, so we have to be with our people and feel their pain and sorrows. We are also invited to work for their rights.