June 16, 2023

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

A journey in ecumenical and interreligious ministry

Fr. Rick GintherHow and why did I enter into ecumenical and interreligious ministry?

That question was asked by my advisory board at our April meeting.

They knew the answer. What they wanted me to do was write a column in response.

My theological involvement in this ministry began on Sept. 11, 1950, at my baptism.

Father Albert Ajamie baptized me. He had a great love of liturgy. He was biritual (Melkite Rite, Roman Rite). His Lebanese origin provided me roots both ecumenical and interreligious. I believe the Lord, through his ministry, meant for me to be equally inclined.

Our situation also influenced me. I grew up four blocks east of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The area was predominantly non-Catholic. Good people lived there. They practiced their faith. In a sense, they were “other.” Yet they were neighbors, sisters and brothers, too. How could they not be God’s friends?

The Latin School, the archdiocese’s former high school seminary in Indianapolis, proved equally foundational.

The priests who taught me never spoke ill of other Christians. Father John Rocap introduced the junior religion class to Congregation Beth-El Zedek. We witnessed a bar mitzvah. I was intrigued.

Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology and the former Saint Meinrad College, both in St. Meinrad, afforded additional experiences.

During the 1973 January inter-term, we mixed with other Christian seminary students, either at Saint Meinrad or at their seminary.

I vividly remember accompanying two Methodist seminarians—both named Dave—to our daily Mass. My role was to make them feel welcome and answer questions.

We did liturgy well at Saint Meinrad. During the Mass, though, both Daves had tears in their eyes. Afterward, concerned that some form of hurt occurred, I asked about the tears.

Their response: “We had no idea that your Mass was so rich in Scripture! Readings, phrases, images throughout! Our tears were joyful!”

Insight is the stuff of ecumenical relationships’ joy!

Upon this well-laid foundation, a larger appreciation occurred during my years of pastoral ministry.

Every parish assignment offered rich ecumenical clergy associations. Common belief in Christ and common care for the spiritual and temporal needs of our community was a glue that bound us in Tell City, Richmond, Indianapolis, and Terre Haute.

In my time as archdiocesan director of liturgy (1993-2005), I was privileged to pray with other Christians at funerals, memorial services and in other gatherings.

The Interfaith Thanksgiving Week Service at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis afforded annual opportunities to witness the prayer, preaching and music of other religions.

The prayer service on Sept. 11, 2001, at the Episcopal Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis was profound. Christians, Jews, Muslims and others planned the service in short order. We prayed and shared our grief and horror before God at 5:30 p.m.

In September 2013, then Auxiliary Bishop Christopher J. Coyne asked if I would take up the ministry of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Living in Terre Haute at the time, I questioned the practicality. He reassured me I could do the work effectively, even 70 miles west of Indianapolis.

This September, I will celebrate 73 years as a Catholic Christian, 41 years in pastoral ministry and 10 years in this office.

What sustains me? God’s goodness and the goodness of God’s multi-hued, multi-ethnic, multi-Christian and multi-religious neighbors.

And some clear, simple principles:

  • The wisdom of the Holy Spirit at the Second Vatican Council.
  • Ecumenism is essential to Christianity.
  • Interreligious dialogue is essential for humanity.
  • We are neighbor. We must reach out to the neighbor.
  • Be not afraid. Rather, be willing to explore the faith of others. Be willing to share your faith. Be open to the Spirit in each person as they seek the face of God.

This is my journey and the principles flowing from it. I hope it sparks you, Criterion readers, to reflect on your experiences of ecumenical and interreligious relationships.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. He is also the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis.)

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