Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
(Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11-19)
Latin America has become pluralistic with regard to religion. In most cities Protestant churches dot neighborhoods like grocery stores, and missionaries pace the streets inviting people to taste their spiritual food. There is little concern for ecumenism. Priests see the missionaries as bandits raiding their flocks as Paul warns of in today’s first reading. Meanwhile, Protestant pastors criticize Catholic priests as betrayers of the Bible. The situation defies Jesus’ prayer for unity at the heart of his “Priestly Prayer” in today’s gospel.
Jesus asks his Father to make all those who believe in him one in faith and love. He has in mind all the churches that his disciples will establish. When John wrote his version of the gospel, at least fifty years after Jesus’ resurrection, separation among the churches had already taken place. Indeed, the fracture underlies the First Letter of John. The evangelist here pictures Jesus praying that the churches will reunite in that close unity that characterizes his relationship with the Father.
We must keep alive that vision today. The challenge is daunting as some Protestant communities seem to adjust their moral code to current social fashion and some Orthodox communities maintain a profound distrust of Western Christianity. Nevertheless, there are moments of possibilities which, like seeds in the desert, may find enough sustenance to grow. Twenty years ago Saint John Paul II issued his encyclical That They May Be One offering a heartfelt willingness to make accommodations for the sake of unity. More recently, Pope Francis has extended an open hand to evangelicals and Orthodox. We can support progress toward this goal by cooperating with other branches of Christianity on charitable projects, by participating in prayer services, and by not harping at other religious traditions.