This year marks two important milestones in the continuing story of ecumenical relationships between the Churches and people across the island of Ireland. It marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Irish Council of Churches in 1923 and the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks of 1973 – the first structured encounter between the Roman Catholic Bishops and representatives of other Christian Churches on the island of Ireland. These series of meetings eventually led to the establishment of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting through which inter-Church dialogue is conducted today. Therefore, it was fitting that on Monday 4 September, the annual meeting of the Advisory Committee of Ecumenism of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (itself formed in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council) was addressed by the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Bishop Andrew Forster, Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.
In his address, Bishop Forster spoke of his life journey, particularly in the context of the transformation of relationships that has taken place between the Christian Churches on the island. “Both the formation of the Irish Council of Churches and the Ballymascanlon Talks, fifty years apart, occurred at times of turmoil and darkness. But both of these have become vehicles for transformation and hope through the building of relationships and the desire to love and serve God; in ways that let people see how much we all love Jesus and therefore live out the Lord’s command to ‘love one another'”, he said. Bishop Forster also spoke of his hope that Christians of all denominations in Ireland would continue to be seen working together, spending time together in witnessing to the truth, the Good News that we all share and proclaim. He also highlighted the importance of local Church communities being connected and visible in negotiating together the pathways that society is travelling today and into the future. “We pray the prayer of Jesus: ‘that they may be one’ (John 17:21), so that the world will see us and that our diversity within Christ will allow the colour of God’s love to be seen. Let us open more gates in the walls that we have allowed to be built up, so that new pathways may be made and travelled”, he concluded.
The Chair of the Council for Ecumenism, Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher, welcomed Bishop Forster and thanked him for his inspiring and hope-filled talk. He noted that the work of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue is at the centre of the Church’s mission and will be an important part of the ongoing Synodal Pathway as the journey continues towards the unity that Christ willed for his Church. To that end, local communities are being encouraged to join the Pre-Synod Vigil of Prayer of the People of God being held in Rome on the evening of Saturday 30 September (4pm to 6pm Irish time). Communities are also invited to host prayer events locally on that date. Such vigils can also be part of the Season of Creation which draws to a conclusion at that point.
Resources are available on the following link – Together – Gathering of God’s People (together2023.net)