Unity in Diversity: Part I

One of the best things about being a staff writer for the Fairfield County Catholic, both in print and online, is that I go to many events that I otherwise may not attend. On Sunday afternoon, January 25, I went to an ecumenical prayer service at Bridgeport’s St. John’s Episcopal Church, sponsored by the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport.

When I arrived at the 4:00 pm service, the church’s small parking lot was already filled, so I circled the block and carved a parking space out of ice and snow on a nearby street. I entered the church just as the procession was beginning.

Bishop Caggiano was the only Catholic cleric among 11 other Christian clergy representatives for the event. When he made his way forward and into the sanctuary, I was a bit concerned because he was assigned a seat in the far, rear corner of the sanctuary and was barely visible to the 200 or so participants and congregants in the body of the church. An usher handed me a lengthy program, and when I sat down, I was happy to discover that Bishop Caggiano was listed as the homilist. Although his assigned seat was not very prominent, he would have time front and center at the podium for a reflection on the Word of God.

If I was not asked to cover the event and to take photos, it is likely that I would not have been there. After being Bishop of Bridgeport for nearly one and a half years, Bishop Caggiano is likely still discovering the strengths and weaknesses of our diocese. The light Catholic participation at a prayer service in honor of the annual “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” may have come as a surprise to him. Then again, he may already be well-aware that, for a variety of reasons, ecumenical efforts are a low priority for most Catholic clergy and lay people in the diocese.

In defense of the Catholic clergy, most parishes offer many more services on a weekly basis than the average non-Catholic Christian church. By the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, most Catholic clergy are fairly worn out, and the idea of attending another, “non-essential” prayer service is likely not very appealing to most. Bishop Caggiano brought energy and vibrancy to his opportunity at the ambo, and received many hearty “Amens!” and a nice round of applause at the conclusion of his homily. He began his turn as preacher with humor but then settled into a serious, even somber tone, about relations between the various Christian churches. “We come here today divided as brothers and sisters,” he said, adding that “the division that exists among us is a scandal to the larger world.” He emphasized, however, that Christians share a common baptism, and expressed hope that one day, all Christians will worship in one Church, professing one faith. “Jesus Christ is the Lord of us all,” he said. “We must fix our eyes on Jesus Christ.”

Single-handedly, Bishop Caggiano fittingly represented the diocese at the prayer service marking the conclusion in our area for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Following the lead of our bishop, perhaps Catholic clergy and laypeople can engage ecumenism with renewed energy. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an annual event, occurring around the third week of January each year.

This will be the first blog that I have written that has multiple parts. The ecumenical prayer service was nearly two-hours long, which is a little longer than I expected, but as a Catholic priest, I learned a lot about how other Christians worship and praise God, and in one or two more blog posts on the subject I would like to share some of the insights that I gleaned from the prayer service that can definitely be instructive for us as Catholics going forward.