Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
August 20, 1999
Families that belong to 2 churches
Interchurch couples caught in the struggle for church unity
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — The unity we strive for is a gift from God, a Vatican theologian told about 40 couples attending the International Conference for Interchurch Families, Aug. 1-6.
"Christ is the key to the unity of the family and the unity of the churches, which are two inseparable realities," said Bishop Marc Ouellet, the number two man in the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Interchurch families live ecumenical lives and they will continue to live the hopes and difficulties of Christian unity in spite of a more relaxed relationship among the Christian churches.
While double belonging has become a household term for most of the interchurch families, especially the children, Ouellet said it is a difficult concept not understood easily by others.
"There is only one solution to the problems of the interchurch families, that is the full communion and unity of the churches," said Canon Martin Reardon, an Anglican clergyman from England.
"Only a deeper encounter with Christ can bring about unity among the churches," said Ouellet, the former rector of Edmonton's St. Joseph Seminary who was appointed by the pope to his office in March.
Ouellet underscored important development on the Catholic teachings concerning the family after Vatican II.
A family born by the sacrament of marriage is not only a community that is sacred by the love of Christ. It is also a saving community that shares the love of Christ with others, said Ouellet, quoting Pope John Paul.
Interchurch families represent a special challenge to make sure that the unity of the family and the couple will develop and survive within the greater communion of the Church family, said Ouellet.
"It is a special challenge to live out the mystery of the Church within the difference, but it is not impossible."
In many cases, interchurch couples distance themselves from the Church because of the question of belonging. This is a pressing concern for Christian churches.
This is the same concern that leads interchurch couples to educate themselves about the differences and the points of convergence of their faith traditions. They recognize that Christian marriage is their vocation.
"It is our spiritual path to God," Reardon said.
Interchurch couples travel the path together and face the challenges of their situation but at the same time savour the enriching experience it provides.
"Our own Christian tradition becomes so much more alive to us, for we have to explain it to someone who loves us," said Ruth Reardon, a Roman Catholic who is married to Canon Reardon.
"We come to our marriage with our two distinct Christian traditions and identities and we remain two distinct persons and two distinct identities," Canon Reardon said.
"But as we grow together in marriage, we develop in addition a new common Christian identity, a new family identity, in which the gifts of spiritual traditions of our two churches come to be shared."
For Canon Reardon, that is the reason why many interchurch children do not want to embrace just one faith tradition because if they do, they would be giving up part of their own spiritual identity.
When the differences are lived together in unity, a completely new dimension of Christian life is discovered, Ruth Reardon said.
Martin and Ruth, recipients of the pro-ecclesiae pontifice award for their ministry with the interchurch couples, founded the association in 1968.
"In 1968 we discovered that there were other couples like us. We were not alone," recalled Ruth.
"We were overwhelmed discovering that there are other Christian couples drawing spiritual nourishment from the Roman Catholic and the Church of the other partner."
Sacramental sharing poses difficulty in the situation of interchurch families. While many Christian churches accept Baptism and marriage in other churches as valid, sharing the Eucharist remains problematic.
"To be full members of the two churches and receiving Communion would imply mutual agreement at the highest level of unity among the churches, but it is not the case," Ouellet said in response to the question.
However, Ouellet noted that it is a pastoral concern that has to be addressed and explained to the couple clearly because it also involves doctrinal issues.
Both Canon Reardon and Ouellet emphasized that the contemporary culture also challenges the family.
Ouellet received a standing ovation for his diplomacy during the question and answer portion of the presentation. People appreciated that he was willing to listen and to explain the position of the Catholic Church in different matters.
Aside from the families from Austria, Australia, England, Germany, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States and Canada, ecumenical officers, a Roman Catholic canon lawyer and pastoral workers from different churches attended the five-day conference.
Members from African and Asian countries did not make it to the conference because they were denied tourist visas by Immigration Canada.
While parents were in session and the youth in their own program, children were in a vacation Bible school.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.