Not so very long ago, Catholics and other Christians were less than eager to pray together. (Heresy).
Members of the John 17 Movement are out to change all that. They’ll gather May 23, the eve of Pentecost, at the Phoenix Convention Center for a daylong celebration of what they have in common: Jesus Christ.
Over the course of the last year, influential local and international Protestant and Catholic leaders have been meeting regularly to pray. Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of the Diocese of Phoenix, is one of them.
Bishop Nevares pointed to the Scripture verse from which the movement takes its name.
“Jesus revealed to us the heart of the Father in John 17:21, ‘Father, may they be one in us, so that the world may believe,’” Bishop Nevares said. “This unity of the Body of Christ is brought about by the Holy Spirit and this is a day to pray together for the blessings of unity.”
The Rev. Gary Kinnaman, pastor at large with Grace Unlimited, has high expectations for the event.
“It’s rare, it’s historic and it’s a new day for the Church,” Kinnaman said. “It’s the beginning of something grand God is doing to bring followers of Jesus together.”
Christians representing many denominations and more than 20 cooperating organizations will gather for the daylong bilingual program of praise, prayer and exhortation from an array of noted Christian leaders.
Speakers include the Rev. Giovanni Traettino, pastor of the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation in Caserta, Italy and Rosa Elena Cruz Muniz from Renovación Carismática in Phoenix. Pope Francis, who spoke passionately about “Unity in Diversity” at Pastor Traettino’s Church last year, is filming a special message for the occasion.
Dennis Ricardo, a member of City of the Lord, a Catholic charismatic covenant community in Tempe, has been taking part in the ecumenical John 17 Movement. He said it’s all about unity.
The gathering, he said, is “for Christians to be as one and not to be separate… There is a way for Christians to celebrate that unity together, but more importantly, the effort to get there — the journey — is actually more important in that it requires us to work together and to build unity,” Ricardo said.
As Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa face persecution, Ricardo said it’s time for Christians to stand together.
“We believe in the same Trinity,” Ricardo said. “It’s time for Christians to stand together in the face of Christians in other parts of the world who face death just because they are Christians. We can’t sweat the small stuff.”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese will speak at the gathering and organizers say they expect some 4,000 people to attend.
Promotional materials provided by the John 17 Movement state that the group will not delve into doctrine — there are sharp differences in the Catholic and Protestant teachings about such matters as the Eucharist and the role of Mary — but the group does intend to build friendship and unity between churches.
The john17movement.com website’s homepage states that the group is “bringing together diverse ministries for the common cause of church unity and city transformation.”