Colombian Mennonites and Catholics connect through peacemaking

By staff writers
August 31, 2007

With thanks to Shalom Wiebe and Mennonite World Conference

Mennonites and Catholics in conflict-ridden Colombia have discovered common ground in their recent dialogue about peacemaking, part of an international series of meetings to encourage more fruitful contact between the two Christian traditions.

"I have been able to get to know a new world that I never knew before," said Monsignor Fidel Cadavid, the bishop of Quibdo, Colombia. "Without knowing one another, it is impossible to practice ecumenism.”

Bishop Cadavid plans to connect with the Mennonite congregation in Quibdo on his return. “I see a great affinity [between our churches] in peace work. Working together, we will have more strength and be more effective in our advocacy."

He was speaking of “Called Together to be Peacemakers,” an encounter for Catholic – Mennonite Dialogue which took place from 15-16 August at the Episcopal Conference of Colombia. The two-day meeting was organized by the three Anabaptist conferences of Colombia – Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ – together with the Department for Ecumenical Catholic Bishops Conference and the Pontifical Bolivariano University. Mennonite Central Committee was a sponsor.

The encounter was one of three regional Catholic – Mennonite dialogues taking place around the world as a result of the five-year dialogues between Mennonite World Conference and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Some 65 representatives of Catholic and Mennonite churches, primarily from higher levels in the church structure, participated in the event. Larry Miller, Mennonite World Conference general secretary, attended along with representatives of Mennonite churches in Guatemala and Mexico.

Participants heard the final report of the MWC - Pontifical Council Dialogue and its contextualization to the situation in Colombia. Later, groups developed “lines of action” in which Catholic and Mennonite churches of Colombia could work together.

The dialogue’s commission presented the beginnings of a joint communiqué confirming their common faith in Christ and joint vision to work towards peace and justice in Colombia. An MWC delegation will share the final version of this document with the Vatican during a visit in October.

The theme of healing wounds was addressed. Participants noted that in the Colombian context, wounds in the relationship between the Catholic and Mennonite churches are much fresher than the 16th century era of martyrdom. Miller encouraged participants to tell their story together, a challenging yet fundamental step towards working together in the future and a potential example for the rest of Latin America.

An encounter of historic significance, this was the first official dialogue between the Catholic and Mennonite churches in Latin America. “Fifteen years ago a meeting like this would have been impossible” noted Amparo Beltran, a member of the Catholic Church who has been active in promoting ecumenical dialogue in Colombia.

A sense of unity was evident in the final liturgy, led by members of both churches. Participants stood in a close circle while representatives of each church co-lit a candle symbolizing their commitment to work together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

"The significance of this dialogue is that it has been an effort to break down barriers of distrust, prejudice, and hostility and to practice Jesus' commandment to love one another," noted Peter Stucky, pastor of a Mennonite church in Bogotá, MWC representative, and co-organizer of the event. "This dialogue allowed is to focus on our common mission as churches in Christ. We have a historical responsibility to the world around us, and that is not to be fighting each other, but to work for the well being and salvation of the world."

Commenting on the dialogue, Guillermo Zuleta Salas, director of the Department of Doctrine and Ecumenism of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia and co-organizer of the event, said he was pleased with the results.

"We got to know each other, and we recognized a sense of friendship. We created a bond of brother/sisterhood and friendship and demonstrated that we can work together. The dialogue was very respectful and friendly and the atmosphere was not only academic but also spiritual."

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