A remarkable retreat-style meeting took place June 9-10 at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie involving a few dozen members of the John 17 Movement, which promotes the unity of all believers in Christ according to verse 21 (May They All Be One) of that Gospel chapter.
The John 17 movement was sparked in 2013 when a Pentecostal pastor named Joe Tosini from Arizona was awakened in New York City with the strong motivation to pray for then-newly elected Pope Francis. According to the John 17 website, he told his wife about what had happened and said that he believed “we need to serve out our days working for Christian unity.”
Pastor Tosini soon discovered that his friend, Giovanni Traettino, a Protestant minister from Caserta, Italy, had become good friends with Pope Francis during the pope’s tenure as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
He soon invited other Protestant pastors and Catholic bishops to two nights of prayer and fellowship in the Phoenix area, which featured a greeting from Pope Francis.
The ecumenical movement is more relational than theological. Using Jesus’ example from the Last Supper, they would gather around tables and build bonds of love and friendship.
Pope Francis has met more than once at the Vatican with pastors affiliated with the movement to hear about their experiences, pray with them and encourage them in their path to unity.
For the meeting at Dunwoodie, the pope delivered a four-minute video message that sounded much like a greeting to close friends.
“John 17 Movement,” Pope Francis said, “is about the love of those who—around the table, having a cappuccino, having lunch or enjoying an ice cream—discover brothers and sisters, not because of color, nationality, origin or the various ways in which they live their faith, but as children of the same Father.
“Love is an encounter of life, first with the Lord Jesus, with the person of Jesus,” the pope said. “From there, from that encounter of love are born friendship, fraternity and the certainty of being children of the same Father.”
“Love is concrete, love gives the life for others, as Jesus gave it for us,” he added. “You are teaching us by living it.”
Pope Francis mentioned that he had planned to meet with the members of John 17 in recent months, but the Covid-19 pandemic “did not allow it.” He said he hoped that the visit could be rescheduled before the end of the year, noting that the testimony shared during earlier meetings always fills him with hope and joy.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa of Brooklyn, rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary and a member of the John 17 Movement, said in a phone interview that the group’s emphasis on “relational ecumenism” is a dialogue of life and religious experience.
The bishop’s episcopal motto is “May They All Be One.” He has served as executive director of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue.
He said that Pope Francis’ groundbreaking outreach to Pentecostals and Evangelical Christians in Latin America spilled over to the United States and serves as an inspiration for John 17.
Several other members of the Catholic hierarchy also participated at last week’s meeting, including Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who delivered one of the keynote addresses, and Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith of Portland, Ore., and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares of Phoenix.
Holding such a meeting at Dunwoodie is consonant with the seminary’s mission, Bishop Massa said.
“We are preparing men to be pastors in this society today, which is increasingly secular,” the bishop said. “Christians are naturally drawn together in this environment.”
He noted that St. Joseph’s Seminary plans to include a new course on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue in its offerings next spring. It will be taught by Father Ryan Muldoon, a priest of the archdiocese.
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