Cardinal recalls life of Wesley
THE VATICAN'S most senior ecumenical official has visited a Rome Methodist church and preached on the life of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.
The service, on June 22, was part of celebrations marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of Wesley, who led an 18th century spiritual revival movement that eventually grew into the Methodist Church.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said he brought the greetings and blessings of Pope John Paul II to the small Pante Sant'AngeloMethodist Church, just across the Tiber River from the Vatican.
The church serves about 170 English-speaking Methodists in Rome, and Cardinal Kasper was invited to preach at the regular Sunday service. He said the invitation was a generous and bold one, given Wesley's "complex" relationship with the Catholic Church.
Although Wesley acknowledged that Catholics could be saved through faith, his writings and sermons contain hostile references to the papacy and the "errors of the Church in Rome".
Hopefully, the cardinal added, Wesley would phrase his comments differently if he were alive today: "His commentary on the Book of Revelation reflects a rather ungracious view of the papacy, so much so that it is somewhat daring of you to invite me here today, and perhaps, equally daring of me to accept."
Cardinal Kasper said Wesley's Letter to a Roman Catholic, a plea for understanding among Christians, struck a more tolerant tone and was more in line with Catholic-Methodist dialogue over the past 40 years. He said the dialogue has already yielded much fruit, opening the way to a genuine friendship among members of the two churches. He noted that
Catholic-Methodist relations today are influenced by the fact that there is no history of formal separation. Since Methodism grew out of the Anglican tradition, " we have no difficult memories of separating".
Cardinal Kasper's sermon was an important step in Catholic recognition of Wesley's life and work, Canadian Father Donald Bolen, a member of the Vatican's Christian unity council, said.
After the service, Cardinal Kasper joined the Methodist pastor, the Rev Pieter Bouman, in greeting members of the congregation at a reception. The church counts among its members Methodists from the United States, Britain, Sri Lanka, India and several other countries, The World Methodist Council maintains an official dialogue with the Catholic Church, and in the United States the United Methodist Church meets regularly with Catholic dialogue experts.