BY A STAFF REPORTER THE most important ecumenical conference to be sponsored by the Catholic Church in Britain since the Vatican Council opens at Heythrop College on Monday. Initiated by Cardinal Heenan it will be attended by lay and clerical representatives from every diocese in England and Wales.
During its four-day sitting the conference will map out an ecumenical blueprint which the newly formed National Ecumenical Commission is likely to use as a basis.
Under the chairmanship of Bishop Holland of Salford, one of the three presidents of the Ecumenical Commission, the conference will discuss what exactly is Ecumenism. Is it just a plan to bring every church into the Roman fold?
Although many Catholics and non-Catholics regard it as just that. this narrow view is likely to be hotly contested at the conference.
Among the outstanding lecturers invited is Canon William Purdy, of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome. He will be joined by people like Fr. Henry St. John, 0.P., Fr. Bernard Leeming, S.J. and, of course, Bishop Holland.
Bishop Kenneth Sansbury, of the British Council of Churches; Dr. Harold Roberts, immediate past president of the Methodist Conference; the Rev. Professor George Caird. leading Congregationalist, and the Rev. John Weller, the British Council of Churches officer responsible for ecumenical education, will also deliver papers.
These and other ecumenical leaders will set the pace for the conference which will hold its discussions mostly in small groups. Each of the 19 Catholic dioceses will be represented by one priest, one religious and one layman or laywoman.
The practical organisation of the conference is in the hands of Fr. Leeming, Newman Professor of Ecumenical Theology at Heythrop. It does have a precedent. In August, 1962, Cardinal Heenan (then Archbishop of Liverpool) chaired an ecumenical conference of clergy at Heythrop when the guest of honour was Cardinal Bea. of the Christian Unity Secretariat.
It was so successful that a paperback covering the major lectures was printed. There are also plans to incorporate the major lectures from next week's conference into a paperback.
The key to the conference is the publication of the Ecumenical Directory by the Vatican. Hitherto Catholic bishops and priests have been in doubt about what ecumenical activities they should encourage. This has led to some confusion. While joint church services were actively encouraged in some dioceses, in others even joint carol singing was frowned upon.
Some parishes have been giving active support to Christian Aid and the People Next Door programme. Others have been wary. Then there has been the question of whether priests should be accepted into local Council of Churches as full members or observers.
More unity enthusiasm
At next week's conference ecumenical leaders like Mgr. Buckley of Bristol and Fr. Keldany, of London, will share their experiences with those who have not been so adventurous. Suggested items for discussion include: 1 How can Catholics be encouraged to be more enthusiastic about the ecumenical movement?
2Can the Week for Christian Unity be made better and more widely observed? 3 Should special days be set aside for "ecumenism"?
4 Many non-Catholics do not understand Catholics' refusal to attend regularly their liturgical services—or have intercommunion. How can Catholics best explain what nonCatholics think is a failure to recognise the ecumenical