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Malines Conversations Group – Communiqué

From March 17 to 20, a group of Anglican and Catholic theologians gathered at the Monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium to initiate a new ecumenical exploration under the title ‘Malines Conversations Group’.  Desiring to stand in the tradition of the Malines Conversations, which were convened by Cardinal Mercier of Mechelen (Malines) in the 1920’s, the Group’s first meeting included reflection on socio-cultural, liturgical and ecclesial developments from the time of the Malines Conversations to the present, and on the anthropological dimension of liturgical experience in our two communions.

During the meeting, the Conversation participants joined the monks of Chevetogne for their worship, both in the Byzantine and Latin rite traditions. They also went on pilgrimage to Mechelen and joined in prayer at the tomb of Cardinal Mercier.

Like the Malines Conversations of the 1920’s, the current dialogue is informal and not officially sponsored by Anglican and Catholic Churches, though it has been organized in consultation with and has received the blessing of Church authorities. Archbishop Rowan Williams and Cardinal Godfried Danneels have agreed to serve as Patrons of the Conversations.  At the recommendation of those responsible for coordinating ecumenical relations in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, the Malines Conversations Group will remain in communication with both the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

Though not intentionally planned this way, the meeting was held during the same historic week as the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis and the enthronement of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and was imbued with the hope which those events carried for the life of our two communions, and the future of our relations.

Anglican participants:

  • Rev. Dr. Jennifer Cooper, College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, UK
  • Rev. Dr. James Hawkey, Westminster Abbey, London, UK
  • Rev. Dr. Simon Jones, Chaplain of Merton College, Oxford, UK
  • Rev. Dr. Jeremy Morris, Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, UK
  • Rev. Dr. Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, member of ARCIC III, Singapore
  • Canon Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky, member of ARCIC III, London, UK

Catholic participants:

  • Most Rev. Donald Bolen, Catholic Co-Chair of IARCCUM, Saskatoon, Canada
  • Dr. Joris Geldhof, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium
  • Dr. Maryana Hnyp, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium
  • Rev. Dr. Keith Pecklers, S.J., Gregorian University, Rome
  • Rev. Dr. Thomas Pott o.s.b., Monk of Chevetogne, University of Sant’Anselmo, Rome
  • Rev. Cyrille Vael o.s.b., Monk of Chevetogne

The Malines Conversations Group members expressed their heartfelt thanks to Abbot Philippe Vanderheyden and the monks of Chevetogne for the extraordinary welcome extended to them.  Their aim is to meet again next March at a location in the United Kingdom.

Bishop Don Bolen

He got the call on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2009. “The Holy Father would like you to be bishop of Saskatoon.”

It is significant then, that his ordination as bishop take place today, on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 2010.

Bishop Don Bolen at his ordination

In between these two events, I had the privilege of being the bishop-elect’s student in Rome for his half of a course on Methodism and its dialogue with the Catholic Church. I even wrote up a short blog article about the class and my first encounter with Msgr. Bolen, here.

I had offered some first impressions at the end of that blog. Over lunch on his next-to-last day in Rome, Father Don mentioned that someone had directed him to my blog about him, and he suggested that perhaps I should revisit my impressions now that we had gone through an entire class together. Fair enough.

The people of Saskatoon are blessed among Canadians. That is all there is to it.

Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Most bishops have no training or formation to become bishop, not really. They see how their bishop acts, think what they would do, and that’s about it. Bishop Bolen spent years on the Vatican desk covering the dialogues with the Anglicans and the Methodists, where episcopacy and authority, indeed ecclesiology in general, are the major issues of discussion. What better formation than to be a theologian-pastor studying the highest level conversations about what it means to be a bishop, ecumenically, especially when Ratzinger is Pope and Kasper is President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity? Granted, it is one thing to engage in discussion about the episcopacy, and another to live it out, but what an opportunity!

So that’s the leadership aspect. What about teaching? At the end of our course, (team taught by Bishop Don and the Rev. Dr. Trevor Hoggard, the Methodist Representative to the Holy See) several of us had concluded this was one of the most valuable courses offered, in terms of both method and content. It was pretty straightforward: Get a solid introduction to the Methodist church from a Methodist pastor/theologian, get a thorough overview of the dialogue from the Catholic perspective, and culminate in a mock-dialogue with actual participants from the international dialogues, complete with Anglican observer.

The celebration of his ordination as bishop in Saskatoon was attended by several ecumenical leaders locally, and by a delegation from Rome that included Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the PCPCU,  Fr. James Puglisi, SA, Father-General of the Friars of the Atonement and Director of the Centro Pro Unione, Very Rev. David Richardson, ChStJ, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, and others.  I have included a link to the pictures that the diocese has put up about the event, including a slide show.

His motto is “Mercy within Mercy within Mercy” and his coat of arms and biographical information are here. Weslyan hymns specifically chosen by the bishop were a central part of the ordination liturgy, as was an ecumenical prayer service that looks to have been very well attended.

Being bishop is no easy task and my prayers are with this newest of Canada’s episcopate. Coming from a diocese that has not seen a ‘normal’ transition of episcopal leadership since before I was born, I can especially appreciate what it means for a local church to find a shepherd that makes such a good fit, and I hope the coming years are fruitful and filled with the Spirit.

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