Catholics, Mennonites discuss the meaning of compassion

Kae Neufeld

Kae Neufeld

February 23, 2015

A snowy winter night and Our Lady of Assumption Parish basement is filled with an intriguing ecumenical gathering of 25 Roman Catholics and Mennonites.

This is their annual meeting where they discussed the book Compassion, a reflection on the Christian life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison.

"We are in our fifth year of dialogue," said Julien Hammond, director of the ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Edmonton Archdiocese.

The group meets every second month to discuss an issue or book and Hammond said both churches have common concerns, such as immigration and refugee work.

Presenter Ike Glick compared Compassion with a journey that requires formation, guidance and practice.

Formation, he said, requires patience. "Compassion is a grace we grow into by patient perseverance."

Guidance calls us to prayer.

Practice means "getting involved in contemporary actions by which good news is brought to the poor, liberty to prisoners, new sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed."

When compassion is embraced, said Glick, "God's Spirit takes up residence within us and in that sense, compassion is a gift."

Ike Glick

Ike Glick

Sister Gertrude Sopracolle agreed in her presentation, saying, "Living in our own little communities – family, work – is a daily challenge."

By day's end, people are so stressed and drained of good will, they have little energy for their friends and family, let alone the community. By community, she meant solidarity, servanthood and obedience.

Solidarity happens when "a Christian group feels strongly about a common interest and acts together on it," Sopracolle said.

"Solidarity provides a healing atmosphere . . . (and) compassion happens. Those who enter feel understood, accepted, valued loved." As a servant community "we can respond to many varied needs while having our own needs met."

Kae Neufeld told the gathering Nouwen defines compassion as "to suffer with, to go where it hurts to places of pain, brokenness, fear, confusion and anger."

Why? Because this is Jesus' call to radical conversion. God is moved by one's pain and participates in the human struggle.


"Divine compassion is the expression of a new way of living in which interpersonal comparisons, rivalries, and competitions are gradually left behind," said Neufeld.

Jesus enters. "(He) entered our state of powerlessness by emptying himself and becoming like us," she said. God's compassion is "total, absolute, unconditional and without reservation" when people understand their new life in Christ and learn to live as servants.

There are qualifiers though.

Said the authors: "When we see nothing but sad, poor sick or miserable people, who after our many attempts to offer to help, remain sad, poor sick and miserable, then the only reasonable response is to move away in order to prevent ourselves from becoming cynical or depressed."