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Report on the 3rd Conference on Receptive Ecumenism, Fairfield CT, June 9-12, 2014

We had two full panels, with three presenters in each. Each of us had numerous opportunities to talk with many other participants from various cultures and roles.  All in all, it was terrific.

In the first panel (myself, Joyce, and Jeff and Margie), we had Dr Orobator SJ, Superior of the Jesuits in Kenya, sitting in.  This played no small part later when, in a plenary in which he was a key speaker, he called attention to the situation in Africa, and asked Joyce to give her own void to the situation there, using her and David's situation as an example.  As such, Joyce and the Kenyan situation was heard by all conference participants.  We couldn't have asked for better representation than Joyce's voice and concrete reality.

It was good to meet Anthony and Rebecca Spellacy, both doing doctoral studies at the Toronto School of Theology.  They are both from the USA.  They were the final presenters, after Thomas Knieps and Mary Marrocco.  All in all, an excellent presentation of practical Receptive Ecumenism, a very good balance to the very academic flavour of much of the conference.

It was interesting to talk with one of the bishops from England, who said he believed One Bread One Body contained far more generous possibilities of Eucharistic hospitality than were being applied, by either clergy or people.

Another bishop, this time from Canada, gave me the very clear impression that he recognised the painful situation interchurch families find themselves in, and was very frustrated that, so far, he had simply not found a way forward which would be faithful to who we are as Roman Catholics.  It was clear, though, that he was looking and listening, and would be overjoyed to find a way forward.  I told him that just hearing from him that very clear recognition and hope was itself a major form of support.

Fenella talked with a priest from the PCPCU.  From what I gather (and I hope Fenella will be able to give us her own, clearer impressions), the PCPCU is concerned not to establish "lists" of times when it may be possible for Christians of other traditions to receive the Eucharist in a Catholic mass.  The rationale, if I understand correctly, was that once such lists were made, they were seen as final, when they were merely examples.  Better, it seemed, to leave the general criteria, and encourage people to discern whether their situation fit those criteria.  I could be wrong on my interpretation of Fenella's conversation.  We really haven't had time to debrief very much as yet.

If my interpretation is right, though, I think I agree.  While "grocery lists" are easy to follow, they remain only occasions when it MIGHT be possible to receive, i.e. they are not automatic.  And there are other situations in which reception may be equally possible, yet they won't be taken up because they are not on the "grocery list".

Better, I think, to call people to explore the criteria themselves, and discern whether or not the criteria fit their situation.  I suggested to the UK bishop that the DAPNE, while providing a sound guide, was in fact almost impossible to abide by. I expressed the opinion that most Catholics in his diocese would never get a chance to see him - and they had at least some sense of Catholic language and thought.  What chance, then, did Christians of other traditions, not knowing Catholic language, of meeting with the bishop to ask permission to receive.  I suggested what should be a doorway to nurturing and growth became, de facto, an unscalable wall.  I think he recognised the reality, but like the Canadian bishop did not know how to move forward to resolve the situation.  But I didn't get the impression he was in any way minimising the reality.

I had a very interesting discussion with Timothy, who this next week is defending his doctoral dissertation (and was wondering what in the world he was doing at the conference when he had so much preparatory work to do).  Timothy lectures part time at Virginia Beach and is a guest lecturer in London.  Timothy told me he didn't like the term "Eucharistic Hospitality".  The reason, he told me, is that hospitality is what one extends to a stranger.  When we have Christians of other traditions in our churches, these are not strangers but family in Christ.  We don't extend hospitality to our brothers and sisters, aunts uncles and cousins.  We simply welcome and feed them, as part of our family, no matter how extended it may be.  While I still see value in the term Eucharistic Hospitality, I was really tken by his logic, and impressed by the sense his ideas conveyed.

I hope that as participants gets time to reflect on what they said, saw, heard, they may contribute and so round out for us a sense of what I believe was a wonderful conference, with very solid input from interchurch families.

Ray