Life

A pilgrim on the way of Christian unity

Peacemaking, reconciliation and Christian unity were the guiding principles of the witness of Fr Gerry Reynolds, the great Redemptorist priest who died on Monday. A quiet and modest man, he would likely be embarrassed by the generous and heartfelt tributes paid to him since his death, including those at an ecumenical service held last night to give thanks for his life and those which will be heard at his funeral at Clonard Monastery today. Fr Gerry contributed regularly to Faith matters, and writing during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2013, he explained why following the pilgrim way of Christian unity was his "passionate concern"

Fr Gerry Reynolds, who died on Monday, in Clonard Monastery, where he said he had become "part of the furniture" since arriving in Belfast in 1983. Picture by Mal McCann
Fr Gerry Reynolds, who died on Monday, in Clonard Monastery, where he said he had become "part of the furniture" since arriving in Belfast in 1983. Picture by Mal McCann Fr Gerry Reynolds, who died on Monday, in Clonard Monastery, where he said he had become "part of the furniture" since arriving in Belfast in 1983. Picture by Mal McCann

DURING this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I have been reminded of the example of Blessed John XXIII who was Pope from 1958 to 1963.

His passion for the unity of the body of Christ led him to convene the Second Vatican Council.

As a young priest ordained in 1960 his bigness of heart inspired me. His prophetic actions awakened me to the great challenge which the deep divisions among the disciples of Jesus still present to our Christian conscience.

Later I came under the influence of Fr Paul Couturier, a priest of the diocese of Lyons who in the 1930s brought together Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox to seek in a shared prayer the unity of the Body of Christ.

He was once called "a man who came out of the future". Brother Roger Shutz and Brother Max Thurian, the French Calvinists who founded the monastic community of Taizé in the 1940s, acknowledged him as their spiritual father.

Shaped by those influences I came to live in Belfast in 1983.

Since then, the unity of the body of Christ has been for me a passionate concern.

I have long since chosen the unity pilgrim way which leads me to go virtually every Sunday with a group of fellow pilgrims to share in the morning service of a Protestant church in Belfast or beyond.

United in a common baptism with these brothers and sisters in Christ, we seek together "to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).

What has sustained us over the years on this unity pilgrim way is a deep conviction that the crucified and risen Lord of the Church is working with us in these simple but prophetic initiatives.

We work with the Prince of Peace sowing seeds of new relationships with congregations of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterians and the Methodists.

He enables us to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).

We look to the Spirit of God to nurture the seeds of those new relationships and are greatly encouraged by a new inter-church initiative, In Joyful Hope, which began in November 2010.

Since then that initiative has enabled Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist disciples of Christ to respond together to the Lord's commandment "Do this in memory of me".

We have been led beyond polemic to communion in the great mystery of faith. We alternate Catholic and Protestant celebrations.

While the present Eucharistic discipline prevents us from celebrating a common Eucharist, In Joyful Hope is undoubtedly a significant new step in Eucharistic communion.

We pray that as Christ's disciples, we may have the grace, through the Holy Spirit, to discover that the most profound joy within your Church lies in our coming together in one and the same faith and love, in order to prepare resolutely for the day when we may share in a common Eucharist.

May all of us share that passion.