The Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission (MERCIC) met at the Casa Maria Immacolata, Rome, from 2nd-8th October 2022 for the first plenary meeting of a new round of dialogue. The Commission has met without interruption since its foundation in 1967 and now begins its twelfth round on the theme of unity and mission. The gathering was hosted by the World Methodist Council with the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome as the local meeting organizer.
The Commission met with a broad agenda of mission and unity, conscious of the forthcoming anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, the current needs and developments of both communions, and the pressing need for unity between us “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). In order to discern its focus for this round of dialogue, the Commission heard papers on: scripture texts from John 17 and Acts 15; the Missio Dei; hearing the cry of the poor; the Council of Nicaea; synodal and conferencing practices within our communions; the implications of mission for belief; recognition; the Wesleyan essentials; and the hierarchy of truths. On the basis of these contributions, the Commission developed a schema for its future work which will seek to chart a pathway towards unity with a missiological lens, taking account of the theological convergence that the dialogue has already achieved.
The Commission began its meeting on 3rd October with prayer at Ponte Sant’ Angelo Methodist Church in Rome, praying the historic Wesleyan Covenant Service together. Commission members were joined by ecumenical representatives and members of the diplomatic community. The Rev. Prof. Edgardo Colon-Emeric preached the opening sermon on Ephesians 4, stating the ecumenical call is perennial, hopeful, and missional. Following the prayer service, the Rev. Deacon Alessandra Trotta, a Methodist deacon currently serving as the moderator of the governing council of the Waldensian Evangelical Church (Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches), addressed the Commission, describing the current ecumenical challenges for Methodists in Italy as well as the special union between Methodist and Waldensian churches in Italy. Additionally, Rev. Prof. Daniele Garrone and Rev. Luca Baratto, respectively the president and the executive secretary of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, shared with the Commission members the work of the Federation.
On Wednesday, 5th October, the Commission met Pope Francis in a private audience and presented to him the report of the eleventh round of dialogue—God in Christ Reconciling: On the Way to Full Communion in Faith, Sacraments and Mission. Commenting on the parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32)—the text chosen by the Commission for its scriptural reflection—Pope Francis noted that both Catholics and Methodists need to repent and return to the Father in order for unity to come about, because through their divisions, both have sinned and strayed from the Father.
The Commission met H.Em. Cardinal Mario Grech and Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, Secretary General and Undersecretary respectively of the General Secretariat of the Synod, on 5th October. Following a shared meal with Commission members, Cardinal Grech and Sr Nathalie explained the current progress of the synodal process being pursued by the Catholic Church and how ecumenical and inter-religious voices constituted an important part of the Catholic Church’s listening to the Holy Spirit. Commission members shared about Methodist theologies of conferencing and discernment, expressed their hopes and fears of the process, and discussed their own experiences of the synodal process thus far.
On Thursday, 6th October, H.E. Chiara Porro, the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, and her spouse, Mr Rien Schuurhuis, hosted the Commission for dinner at their residence. Over dinner the Ambassador explained aspects of the Embassy’s collaboration with the Holy See regarding questions of environmental justice, the dignity of women, and counter human trafficking.
On Friday, 7th October, the Commission launched the report of its eleventh round, God in Christ Reconciling, presenting the text as the first of a new series of Tillard Chair Lectures on the theme of reconciliation, held at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome. The Rev. Prof. Edgardo A. Colón-Emeric, Prof. Catherine E. Clifford, Dr Clare Watkins, and the Rev. Dr Hermen Shastri, all members who participated in the eleventh round, presented chapters of the report. The current Catholic co-chair, Bishop Shane Mackinlay, read a message from the previous co-chairs at the beginning of the presentation.
At the closing dinner on 7th October, Fr. Anthony Currer, outgoing Catholic co-secretary, was recognized for his distinguished service to the Commission as he concludes his tenure at the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. Fr. Martin Browne OSB will succeed Fr. Currer as the new Catholic co-secretary.
The Commission is grateful to all who met with them and received them so graciously during their plenary meeting. In particular, the Commission extends its gratitude to the community of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and all who work at Casa Maria Immacolata for their gracious hospitality and to the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome for their excellent organizing.
The Commission will meet again in October 2023.
The Commission is made up of:
Reverend Prof. Edgardo A. Colón–Emeric (Co-Chair), USA
Reverend Matthew A. Laferty (Co-Secretary), Methodist Ecumenical Office, Rome
Dr Jung Choi, Korea/USA
Dr Geordan Hammond, United Kingdom
Bishop Lizzette Gabriel Montalvo, Puerto Rico
Reverend Prof. Glen O’Brien, Australia
Reverend Dr Hermen Shastri, Malaysia
Prof. Lilian Cheelo Siwila, South Africa
Bishop Shane Mackinlay (Co-Chair), Australia
Reverend Anthony Currer (outgoing Co-Secretary), Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome
Reverend Martin Browne OSB (incoming Co-Secretary), Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome
Prof. Catherine E. Clifford, Canada
Reverend Prof. Gerard Kelly, Australia
Sister Prof. MarySylvia Nwachukwu DDL, Nigeria
Reverend Prof. Daniel Franklin Pilario CM, Philippines
Reverend Prof. Jorge Scampini OP, Argentina
Dr Clare Watkins, United Kingdom
Photo: The Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission on 5 October 2022 (c) Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome