Thursday, July 06, 2006

Called Together To Be Peacemakers

The title of this posting is the title of the Report of the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Mennonite World Conference, 1998-2003.

1. In the spirit of friendship and reconciliation, a dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites took place over a five-year period, from 1998-2003. The dialogue partners met five times in plenary session, a week at a time. At the first four sessions, at least two papers were presented by each delegation as the joint commission explored their respective understandings of key theological themes and of significant aspects of the history of the church. At the fifth session the partners worked together on a common report.

2. This was a new process of reconciliation. The two dialogue partners had had no official dialogue previous to this, and therefore started afresh. Our purpose was to assist Mennonites and Catholics to overcome the consequences of almost five centuries of mutual isolation and hostility. We wanted to explore whether it is now possible to create a new atmosphere in which to meet each other. After all, despite all that may still divide us, the ultimate identity of both is rooted in Jesus Christ.

I guess that the question that has to be asked by many Catholics is "Just who are the Mennonites?"
Historically, the Amish are part of the Anabaptist family. Anabaptists trace their origin to Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525, and were later called Mennonites after Menno Simmons. Menno Simmons was an influential leader and writer who joined the Anabaptists in 1536. In the late 1600's, followers of Jakob Ammann, who disagreed with some issues, separated from the rest of the Mennonites and thereafter became known as the Amish.

Since their trials in the 16th century, the have remained a fairly off-the-radar group along with other historical Anabaptist churches. Having discovered this document on the internet, I copied it and called up the local Mennonite pastor here in El Dorado (yes, there is a Mennonite community here), and asked him if he wanted to get together and discuss this document. Rev. Bill Odom agreed, and so we have been meeting almost weekly for about a year, along with Fr. Bob Allen from St. Mary's Episcopal. There have been quite fruitful discussions on the topics of this statement.

The Mennonites are an historical "peace church." That is, nonviolence and conscientious objection are cornerstones of their life as a church. Catholics, on the other hand, while we work for peace and justice, do not place peace and nonviolence in the center of our ecclesiastical life. So for us peace is important, but not quite as central as it is with the Mennonites.

While this statement explores the history of the two churches, and makes apologies for the violence and misunderstanding of the past, it also proposes a working together in mutual respect in the present for peace. We have found it a little weak in the area of church unity, and very strong on peace issues. I wonder if there are any other Catholics and Mennonites out there who are studying this statement, and if so, what have they discovered in their conversations?

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