In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, +Amen
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I begin this Welcome Address with the Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give without counting the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I am doing your will.
It is my honor and privilege, as the Presiding Archbishop of this community, to welcome each of you to the Spring Synod of The Reformed Catholic Church. I am pleased to see old, trusted friends and deeply humbled to see the many faces of new friends who have traveled great distances to join us for this important event in the life of our church.
With your permission, I would like to dedicate this synod to the memory of Bishop G. Peter Posthumus, OPJB who on November 2, 2007, passed to his eternal reward. Truly, Bishop Peter was a blessed and loved man. He lived a life of the Gospel, loved all people, and was a true missionary. While we sadly mourn his earthly passing, our faith tells us he is now among the Choirs of Heaven. We take comfort in knowing that there is a Reformed Catholic Angel having theological debates with the Saints!
Dear Family in Christ, five years ago, 12 of us took a risk…a true leap of faith. We were a confused people, a hurting people, a people bearing scars caused by ego and unnecessary power struggles. We could have been a lost people… An angry people… but God in His mercy had other plans for this pilgrim church.
And what a plan it has proven to be!
We have much to be proud of… Not an arrogant pride, but a pride in the good and noble work of this faith community. A faith community that reaches out its’ hand to the people of God, regardless of who they are, who they love, their station in life, how they vote, or how much they have in the bank!
We are not a rich church, by financial standards… our riches, no, our treasures, are counted in the lives and faces of the faithful who are members of this body of Christ! As such, our treasures are invaluable!
The Reformed Catholic Church, our church, is truly the Church Militant! We have been rapidly growing, developing significant and relevant ministries that reach out to the people of God and bring them back home. We are a home that does not judge nor hate…a church home that does not abuse, neglect, nor discriminate… a church that lives by and FOR the healing message that comes to us in the Gospels. The Reformed Catholic Church — our church, our ministries, our people — are all integral parts of this emerging church that is taking a leadership role in the independent catholic movement!
As we are ecumenical in nature and genuinely committed to the unity of God’s holy people. We are also reaching out in Christian friendship to other churches and establishing concordats of intercommunion that are based upon mutual respect and recognition of the validity of our catholic orders and lines of apostolic succession. Recently, we were joyfully blessed with the union of Reconciliation Catholic Church, who brought her clergy under the jurisdiction of The Reformed Catholic Church.
I firmly believe that we are in a new Pentecost. The whispering winds are blowing and the Holy Spirit is guiding this church into new and exotic places that, quite frankly, we did not even think about as recently as five months ago, let alone five weeks… or five minutes ago! We find ourselves in places that need a church presence. We stand at the ready to go to those places …to teach, to preach, to be the very hands and feet of Christ!
Reformed Catholic Clergy now can be found in Mexico, Ireland, England, Netherlands, Central America, South America, Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Pakistan, France and India as well as across the United States. Through the grace of God, this church militant is growing – reaching out to the people of God and bringing them home! The Gospel is unfettered and a renewal is happening!
We have been blessed with a number of new vocations and clergy who have joined us over the recent months. I welcome Bishop Barry Ferguson, Bishop James Reed, Bishop David Pflueger, Bishop James Martino and his wife, Deacon Bunnie Martino, Archbishop Michael Hillis and the Community of Reconciliation Catholic Church, Monsignor Ian Adrian and Sr. Meg Britton, of Australia, Monsignor Bernard Walmalwa and the 20 clergy of RCC Kenya, Brother Tomasz Polchalski of Poland, and so many more who have found refuge and home in the arms of our community. May God bless each of them and inspire them on to great works in His name. I am pleased to announce that Monsignor Niall, Monsignor Bernard, Dr. Gemechu Guye, Andrew Nawab, Valentine Akpa and Tomas Pulchalski will be ordained at the Synod in Ireland in May. The Theme for our First International Synod is taken from Matthew 28: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. And so we shall. I ask your prayers for our brothers as they enter new roles of responsibility.
Imagine, if you will, the growth potential we now face over the next several months. Imagine the greater responsibility we all face to be — and remain — a relevant and REAL church! As I said, the whispering winds are blowing, and people are finding us in remote places, such as the Poland, Pakistan, Tanzania, Kenya, Australia, etc. One of the most effective evangelization tools at our disposal is the internet. With our Website serving as the primary source of advertisement for the church, we seem to be reaching a larger than anticipated audience of people. We receive daily correspondence about how wonderful the site it, how informative, and how inviting it is. I want to thank our Webmaster, Monsignor Marcis Heckman for all his hard work on our behalf. Recognizing that we are now an international body, our new evangelization effort includes the immediate translation of our website into eight foreign languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Portuguese, French, Spanish and Italian through the use of computer technology. I must also mention the amazing evangelization tools that the Reformed Catholic Radio and Reformed Catholic Blog, now under the direction of Monsignor Ian Adrian. Fr. Warren Taylor, of Atlanta, GA began a wonderful project that now has a true international feel. I sincerely thank both Fr. Warren and Monsignor Ian for their efforts on this important evangelization effort.
New, innovative and relevant ministries are having a significant impact on the lives of the people we serve. This is truly a working church! Outreach programs such as the Agape Community Program, ensure that those who come to us to share in catholic sacramental life are in a safe, affirming place that does not judge, does not exclude, does not condemn. Project Mary’s Open Arms ensures that those forced to live in Community Shelters receive nourishing meals every Sunday morning. Pater Noster House provides safe housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. Positive PEERS provides education, information and support for those who are newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. In Kenya, Feed the Lambs serves the orphans of Nairobi, in Mexico, Our Daily Bread serves the children of the dumpster, in Pakistan, our community serves those who hunger and those who have been subjected to the horrors of violence. Our Clergy and Lay leaders in the various parishes and communities are actively involved in social justice programs, writing letters, making presentations, participating in marches, visiting the elderly in nursing homes, visiting the sick in hospitals, reaching out to those who are incarcerated, providing clothing to the poor, preaching and teaching the Gospel… and, in the words of St. Francis, we sometimes use words.
Truly, this is a missionary church. Far too many churches have taken their people for granted, assuming that they would not leave them… Times have changed… but many churches have not been willing to make the changes necessary to remain relevant in the lives of the faithful. As such, there continues to be a mass exodus in the mainstream churches… and yes, there has been an exodus in the independent churches as well. For many, most especially youth between the ages of 16-26, the Christian faith is poorly regarded as a money making scheme at one end to a dangerous judgmental, vengeful religion on the other end of the spectrum. Sadly, I recall these words: Lord, save me from your ministers!
In recent weeks, our missionary call has been made clear by the emerging church in Africa… During our Synod, we will discuss the needs of this new and unexpected gift from our Lord.
As Our Patron Saint, Pope John XXIII so rightly stated, “It’s not that the Gospels that have changed… it is our understanding of them that has changed”…. The Gospels remain the same… Our interpretation and understanding of the saving message of Christ must be clear… it must be balanced…. It must be filled with compassion and unconditional love. Our message must be open to friends and foes alike. Foes most especially!
Many of the people who come to us have suffered at the hands of indifferent ministers and priests. Far too often, we have heard – and sometimes experienced — some ministers and priests stating that even Christ had “justifiable anger” and they use the example of Christ striking at the vendors in the temple to justify their anger, discrimination, indifference and judgmentalism. But I offer this thought to you: As he was being cruelly executed, Christ cried out, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If Christ could – and did — forgive his brutal torturers, how can we hold grudges against people who have done some harm to us, who anger us, or who don’t “fit in” in some way that we want? If we preach a message of faith, hope, love and forgiveness and fail to live a life that reflects that message, we are, as St. Paul tells us, nothing more than clanging cymbals. Cymbals that make noise and nothing more.
It is easy to love the loveable, ever so hard to love those who cause us pain and anger… But as Christians, as ministers of the Gospel, we are commanded to forgive, not once, not seven times, but seven times seventy times… and even then, that is not enough… My brothers and sisters, anger lasts but a minute… love a lifetime. If we cannot forgive … truly forgive… we must NOT dare approach the most sacred altar of our Lord. It would be a profane and dysfunctional act. We must remember that each of us will be judged according to the standards by which we judge others.
The world has enough judges… we must strive to be shepherds.
As shepherds, it is our responsibility to provide educational opportunities for those seeking Holy Orders, as well as for those who have been ordained. As such, Monsignor Michel-Paul Holland, of Ft. Wayne, Indiana has taken on the responsibility as Formation Director. Within the next several weeks, a first draft of his formation program will be presented for comment and approval. Further, under the leadership of Archbishop Michael Hillis and Monsignor Eugene Young, working with my office, are engaged in developing a new Seminary Program in Phoenix, under the auspices of Phoenix Theological Institute, a seminary of The Reformed Catholic Church. Holy Cross Seminary, located in Columbus, Ohio will begin formal classes on September, 2008.
We ask your prayers and blessings on this important and necessary ministry.
Most independent churches fail because they become clubs… where only the “select” are welcome to join and share in the church’s life. As the Shepherd of this flock, I remain committed to work against this deplorable and horrific abuse of the faithful and authority and will NOT allow it to happen in any parish or ministry of the Reformed Catholic Church. Each of us must be a living witness of the Gospel and be the hands and feet of our Lord…. If we find that we cannot be open, affirming, welcoming and forgiving, we must step back, begin to reflect on the message of love that comes to us from Christ and seek healing. Our office does not give us the right to lord over the faithful.
While we are commanded to be gatekeepers, our office does not give us the right to deny someone the right to join the church or share in her sacraments. Our rights are not more important than the rights of the faithful. In so many churches, mainstream or independent, so many clergy forget this important message. As such, they are doomed to failure. Truly, by their fruits you shall know them.
What are our fruits? What have we accomplished?
Over the past three years, I was seeking a way for this faith community to have links to the historical church. I felt that it was important in the life of the church to have that association, through a union with the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht. But, as time went by, I found myself facing the same church politics that we have distanced ourselves from and ended the active effort to become a member of the Union of Utrecht. But then, something happened… I was reminded of a Vatican Document entitled Dominus Iesus, which provided the very thing I was looking for: Connection to the Historic Church! Truly God does open a window when the doors are shut!
Dominus Iesus states in part:
These Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the (Roman) Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, and are true particular Churches.”
“Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such…have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.”
Ratified by Pope John Paul II June 16, 2000 and signed by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI.
My family in Christ, we need look no further for our link to the Historic Church… we have found it! We are the link!
It is important that we have meetings places for the faithful to gather so that they may share in the saving graces of the Blessed Sacrament. So many of our communities have taken leaps of faith to ensure that their parish has a central meeting place… a home. If we do not have a home for people to join together in community, we will not be able to build community. I ask you, as leaders of the church, to take a leap of faith!
My sisters, and brothers, today we begin the Synod of our Church. Old friends reunite. New friendships will be made…We will share in powerful liturgies, wonderful meals, heart warming conversations, thought provoking dialog and debate. Every human emotion can and will be experienced… But though it all, our focus will be on Christ, the reason for our existence as a church… We will understand all the more clearly that our vocation is truly one of FIDES ET RATIO… Faith and Reason. And as Christ has urged us, we “Take and Eat, which is the theme of this Synodal gathering.
By the urging of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer a parish or local jurisdiction, but we are a global denomination! All Glory and honor to our God, Who has made this possible.
May God inspire, fill and bless each of us as we enter into this Synod.
++Phillip Zimmerman, RSJ