Bishops lead ecumenical service
Opening the doors of St. Cecilia Cathedral to the ritual knock of Lutheran Bishop Brian Maas, Archbishop George J. Lucas greeted him with an embrace.
And together, they processed down the Omaha cathedral’s center aisle to lead an ecumenical prayer service May 1 commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and half a century of efforts by Catholic and Lutheran leaders to emphasize common bonds.
"For over 50 years, Lutherans and Catholics have been on a journey from conflict to communion," Archbishop Lucas told the congregation of more than 500 Lutherans and Catholics. "With joy, we have come to recognize that what unites us is far greater than what divides us."
Together, the bishops sprinkled the congregation with holy water, recognizing a common baptism in Christ. The congregation joined in hymns and prayers of thanksgiving for the gifts and richness Catholics and Lutherans share in Jesus, and repentance for human failure, suffering and sin that has kept them apart.
Pope Francis has encouraged similar gatherings around the world, and with Bishop Munic Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, presided over a prayer service in Sweden last October.
In his sermon, Bishop Maas, leader of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, noted the common call to service and love, and the tendency to focus "too often on the fact that we are different branches."
Efforts at ecumenism bring hope for greater understanding, he said.
"And yet, none of us should deceive ourselves into thinking it will be easy," Bishop Maas said. "Five hundred years is a long time. Memories are long, and scars run deep."
Taking the risk of mutual witness will test people, Bishop Maas said. "It will at times, turn us upside down." But disciples of Christ are familiar with that kind of challenge from "the great ‘up-ender,’" he said.
Archbishop Lucas said bringing bishops from the two communities together was a historic moment, and he was pleased with the number of Lutherans and Catholics who took the time to join them in prayer. "It was beautiful," he said.
Father Ryan Lewis, ecumenical officer for the archdiocese and chaplain of Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue, said the gathering sent an important message.
"To make sure our people know where we’re at," he said. "This dialogue is active, alive. And we’re praying together. St. John Paul II said prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement."
Two sisters – one Catholic, the other Lutheran – were among those attending the prayer service. Dorothy Rasgorshek, of Christ the King Parish and Judy Timm of Lutheran Church of the Master, both in Omaha, said it was a wonderful event.
"We’re all Christians," said Timm.
"Christ told us we would be one, someday," chimed in Rasgorshek.
Archbishop George J. Lucas and Lutheran Bishop Brian Maas of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America will come together again Sept. 11 for a public prayer service commemorating the Reformation – this time at Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church in Omaha.
Archbishop Lucas will give a homily at the 7 p.m. service; Lutheran Bishop Maas shared his sermon at the May 1 prayer service at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.