Rome, 24-29 June 2023


The second session of the sixth phase of the International Commission for Dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Catholic Church took place in Rome, Italy, from 24-29 June 2023. This theological dialogue began in 1977 and is cosponsored by the Catholic Church’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (DPCU) and the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council (DECC). The final goal of the dialogue is the full visible unity between Catholics and Disciples of Christ.

The topic of the sixth phase is “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3).” The first meeting explored “The Holy Spirit and the Ministry of the Church;” and the second, “The Holy Spirit as Gift.”

Three papers were delivered during the meeting in Rome: “The Holy Spirit as Gift: Bible Study on 1 Cor 12:4-11” jointly prepared by Revd Dr Merryl Blair (Disciples) and Dr Ian Boxall (Catholic). Two other papers on the topic “the Holy Spirit as Gift” were presented respectively on the same topic by Revd Dr Geritza Olivella-Santana (Disciples) and Prof Elizabeth Groppe (Catholic).

Each morning and evening prayers were led alternately by different members of the Commission. The Commission attended Holy Mass at St Peter’s Basilica on Sunday (25 June); a Communion Service celebrated by the Disciples (27 June); and was also present at the Holy Mass presided over by Pope Francis on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June).

The Commission met with the staff of the DPCU and had an enriching exchange with Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the DPCU (27 June)

On 28 June, Pope Francis received the members of the Commission in private audience. In his words of introduction, Revd Paul Tché, General Secretary of the DECC and co-secretary of the Dialogue, stated that “this dialogue has been regarded as a pilgrimage -- walking together as travelers on the Emmaus road, knowing that our risen Lord is walking with us.”

Pope Francis reminded the Commission that “the Holy Spirit is memory and guide.” He continued saying that the Holy Spirit, as the real protagonist of mission, “keeps the Christian community young.” The Holy Father concluded with the following reflection: “Christian unity is achieved by walking together. Certainly, theologians are necessary: they need to study, to speak, to discuss; but, in the meantime, let us carry on, praying together and with works of charity. For me, this is the path that does not disappoint.”

Bishop David Ricken, Catholic co-chair, summarized their time together as follows: “These days of dialogue have been a journey into the theme of the Holy Spirit as gift. From our respective traditions and understandings of the Holy Spirit’s activity in our personal lives and in the life of our different communities of faith, we have discovered many common elements. We have agreed that all work toward Christian unity is truly the work of the Holy Spirit and our mutual cooperation with the Holy Spirit is essential in building bridges of understanding and cooperation in revealing the kingdom of God already among us.”

Revd Dr Newell Williams, Disciples acting co-chair, stated that, “Disciples of Christ dialogue members met with our Catholic colleagues for six days of worship and thoughtful dialogue between our two communities. While differences separating Disciples and Catholics remain notable, we discovered significant similarities in our experiences of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our discussions and worship together brought us ever closer to our goal of visible unity between our two churches.”

The Commission members from the Disciples of Christ are:  Revd Dr Robert Welsh, Co-chair of the Commission, Indianapolis, USA (unable to attend); Revd Paul Tché, Co-secretary of the Commission and General Secretary of the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council, Indianapolis, USA; Revd Dr Thomas Best, Belmont, USA; Revd Dr Merryl Blair, Melbourne, Australia; Revd Dr Geritza Olivella-Santana, Bayamón, Puerto Rico; Revd Dr Newell Williams, Fort Worth, USA; and Revd Noël Suministrado, Hamiota, Canada/The Philippines (unable to attend).

The Commission members from the Catholic Church are: Most Reverend David L. Ricken, Co-chair of the Commission and Bishop of Green Bay, USA; Revd Msgr Juan Usma Gómez, Co-secretary of the Commission and Head of the Western Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City/Colombia; Dr Ian Boxall, Oxford, UK; Msgr Dr Michael Clay, Diocese of Raleigh, USA; Prof Elizabeth Groppe, Dayton, USA; Revd Dr Taras Khomych, Ukraine/Liverpool, UK; and Revd Dr Michael G. Witzcak, Washington, DC, USA.