The Meeting of the Diocesan Directors of the Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue in the Telugu Region was held on August 01, 2019, at Bishop’s House, Vijayawada. The Chairman of TCBC Commission, Most Rev. Dr. Thelagathoti Joseph Raja Rao SMM, Bishop of Vijayawada, presided over it. There were 11 participants in the meeting including the Diocesan Directors of the arch/dioceses of Adilabad, Guntur, Hyderabad, Nellore and Vijayawada, and the representatives from the arch/dioceses of Cuddapah, Khammam and Vishakhapatnam. There was no participation from the dioceses of Eluru, Kurnool, Nalgonda, Shamshabad, Srikakulam and Warangal.
The main purpose of the Meeting was to make a review of the ecumenical efforts being made in arch/dioceses, and to formulate a plan of action for the ministry of ecumenism in the Telugu region at the diocesan and regional levels finding ways to move forward on the path of Christian unity, which is one of the priorities of Holy Father Pope Francis. The Meeting began at about 10.00 a.m. with the Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity following the order of service jointly prepared by the offices of Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) for the year 2019.
Following the introduction and welcome extended by the Regional Secretary, Fr. Anthoniraj Thumma, inaugural address was delivered by Chairman Bishop Dr. T. J. Raja Rao SMM reminding the participants of the vision and mission of the Commission. Since the other Churches and Denominations are looking up to the Catholic Church we must give lead, he stressed. We must have humility to learn from them specially in evangelising. We need to work together for the common good and nation building especially for the empowerment of the marginalized. We must look at their pastors and leaders not as rivals but as collaborators. We must break the barriers and take initiative to get to know them and meet them. He urged the Directors to take charge of the ecumenical ministry of their arch/diocese and function effectively.
Regional Report of the Commission was presented by the Regional Secretary Fr. Anthoniraj Thumma highlighting its main ecumenical activities and participation in inter-faith programmes. Among other things, he pointed out the efforts made through the Federation of Telugu Churches (FTC), an ecumenical fellowship of Bishops and Church Heads that is being animated by the Commission. During the Telangana Assembly elections and the General Elections held along with A.P. Assembly Elections, FTC had presented a Charter of demands of the Christian Community in Telugu States to the political parties, conducted a Press Meet and issued a Pastoral Letter.Then the diocesan directors and representatives shared one by one the ecumenical activities taking place in their arch/dioceses, as well as their personal experience and efforts in the ecumenical ministry. Some of the common ecumenical programmes being held in the arch/dioceses are: joint prayer services during the Week for Christian Unity, united Christmas celebrations, having fraternal relations with Christian leaders and Pastors’ Fellowships, standing together for the common causes, holding ecumenical protest rallies on the Black Day and on other occasions, and promoting joint events during the Holy Week such as blood donation camps and “Run for Jesus”. They also shared about the difficulties and dangers present in the ecumenical ministry due to the lack of preparation and formation of the Lay faithful on the teaching of the Church on Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue, and due to lack of interest in some bishops and parish priests.
After the Lunch Break, the planning session began with the address by Fr. Arlagadda Joseph, the Deputy Secretary of TCBC, on the emphasis laid on Ecumenism and Dialogue in the TCBC Regional Perspective Plan. The participants also went through the “Perspective Plan of the Commission” and the “Note on Federation of Telugu Churches (FTC)” which outline several proposals and suggest various programmes that can be taken up at the diocesan and regional levels. After some deliberation, the following decisions were arrived at as part of the plan of action to be implemented in the arch/dioceses by the Directors:
• Observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by organizing the joint prayer services in the churches of various Christian Denominations during the Week under the leadership of the local Arch/Bishop. • Organising seminars on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue to the Lay leaders in collaboration with the Diocesan Pastoral Centres. • Arranging a half-a-day workshop for the parish priests in the arch/dioceses on ecumenical ministry and functioning of the Commission. • Setting up of Diocesan Committees for Ecumenism in the arch/dioceses and conducting training programmes for their members. • Maintaining fraternal relations with the leaders of Pastors’ Fellowships, and participating in their meetings and events. • Holding the next meeting of the Diocesan Directors of Ecumenism and Dialogue in the month of January 2020.Vote of thanks was proposed by Regional Secretary Fr. Anthoniraj Thumma to the Chairman Bishop Most Rev. T.J. Raja Rao SMM for generously hosting the Meeting and to the participants for their active participation. In his concluding remarks, the Chairman Bishop observed that it is not appropriate to appoint the Directors of Diocesan Pastoral Centres as the Directors for the Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue as they are overloaded and unable to do justice to it. He insisted that the Arch/Bishops appoint another priest as the Director for the Commission and allocate also funds for the work of the Commission. The Meeting came to end with the concluding prayer and blessing pronounced by the Chairman Bishop at about 4.00 p.m.
-Rev. Fr Dr Anthoniraj Thumma,Regional Secretary, TCBC Commission for Ecumenism & Dialogue.