WASHINGTON The Protestant-Catholic relationship has come a long way since the burning of Christian heretics at the stake and the interrogation of reformers by the Inquisition. Ecumenical meetings and dialogues involving the two branches of Christianity are now the norm, pushed forward by dozens of inter-denominational committees that promote Christian unity at all levels.
But while mistrust and hostility have tapered down, misunderstandings and indifferences still remain at the pews, with many Protestants unsure of Roman Catholic beliefs.
A new resource by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America hopes to change the situation by painting a picture of the Roman Catholic Church from the standpoint of Roman Catholic scholars and leaders.
We want the audience to get a basic understanding of what Roman Catholics believe, about the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and about the Roman Catholic Renewal, from the perspectives of Roman Catholics themselves, said Tim Frakes, producer of the 35-minute film, Understanding the Roman Catholic Church.
The program includes interviews with Roman Catholic theologians, scholars, pastors and lay people, many who laud ecumenical developments as a critical factor of faith.
The most important thing is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ," said the Rev. Robert Hoffman, St. John Neumann Catholic Church in St.Charles, Ill., who was interviewed for the program. "We need to cultivate that relationship and not be fearful of one another but to really come with open hearts and understanding."
According to Frakes, the ELCA decided on the topic because large numbers of Roman Catholics convert to the Lutheran faith.
We thought this would be interesting because there is an awful lot of Lutherans who used to be Roman Catholics or are married to Roman Catholics, said Frakes. There are tremendous amounts of crossover, and we wanted to give a primer so they wont be left in the dark.
Frakes and his crew traveled to Assisi, Casino, Rome, and Trent, Italy to film the piece, which took three months to produce. There, they interviewed top Catholic officials who emphasized the grace of God as a uniting power that overrides differences between the groups.
The things that divide us, yes they divide and have their negative effect on us, but they are minimal compared with the enormous grace of God that brings us together and unites us," said Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity in Rome.
Frakes agreed that despite disagreements over such things as the papacy, number of sacraments, and the nature of Saint Mary, Protestants and Catholics can learn to share in their commonalities.
When people learn about each other, they tend to find out that they have more in common than in opposition, he explained. If you take a legal pad and write about what you disagree on one side and what you agree on the other, youll find that the list of things all Christians share in common far exceeds those things that divide.
Frakes estimates that the program will be viewed by 13,000 ELCA related congregations, as well as some ecumenically-minded Presbyterians and Methodists. Understanding the Roman Catholic Church is available online, beginning today, at: www.elca.org/mosaic/romancatholic.