One faculty member journeyed to Italy last week to present a gift to the Pope.

Edgardo Colón-Emeric, assistant professor of Christian theology at the Duke Divinity School, was one of eight Methodist leaders invited by the World Methodist Council to take part in a week-long series of conversations along with Catholic leaders focused on reconciliation. His experiences in Italy culminated Oct. 19 with a presentation to Pope Francis. 

Colón-Emeric presented Francis with a bilateral statement detailing Christian unity and reconciliation that had been translated into Spanish. The document is part of nearly 50 years of efforts by the Methodist-Catholic Dialogue to explore divisive issues in Christian doctrine. 

“It’s kind of like a spiritual cocktail party with the Pope,” said Curtis Freeman, research professor of theology and Baptist studies. Freeman is currently the chair of the Baptist delegation of a similar international dialogue between the World Methodist Church and the Baptist World Alliance.

The document, “The Call to Holiness: From Glory to Glory,” focused on how holiness is embraced and explored through practice in both Methodist and Catholic traditions. 

“The trip to Rome was essentially a celebration of 50 years of dialogue,” Colón-Emeric said. “We anticipate continuing that dialogue until we are reconciled. What does that look like? The goal is that there will be full communion.”

Continuing the Methodist-Catholic Dialogue—discussing the issues that divide the two traditions—was something that Pope Francis remarked on during the conversation. 

“He said that, after 50 years of dialogue, we are no longer strangers, but we still have a ways to go,” Colón-Emeric said. “The goal is that we can also attain the full recognition of each other that will allow us to break bread together, not just for the sake of breaking bread together, but for the sake of being a witness to the world of reconciliation.” 

For this dialogue, eight Catholic leaders and eight Methodist leaders converged for a week of conversation about unity within the Christian faith. The leaders were chosen by the World Methodist Council, and included three American Methodists, with the others hailing from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia and Nigeria.

“As a community of Methodists and Catholics, we shared in daily prayer and meals and conversations,” Colón-Emeric said. “The visit to the Vatican was one of the days for a dialogue. As you may imagine, it really energized our dialogue.”

With his presentation of the translated document came an explanation to the Pope of what it hoped to accomplish. 

Colón-Emeric plans on applying his experiences with the Dialogue and his time in Italy to his teaching.

“One of the hopes that I have is to make students aware of the importance of the Church coming together in a world where there is already so much division. I want to stress how the Church can be an agent of unity, and not one of more division,” he said. “I want to have students carry with them how a divided Church is a counter-witness to peace.”

Beyond that, Colón-Emeric hopes to encourage students and parishes to read the ecumenical documents and to find ways to incorporate their ideas into their communities.

“That’s really the goal of this—to connect and unify Christians so that they can be sent into the world as ambassadors of peace,” he said.

Freeman emphasized Duke Divinity School’s connection to these efforts of reconciliation, noting that the emblem of the school—a cross and a boat—is the same as that of the World Council of Churches.

“That sends a really subtle, but important, signal that while this is a Methodist school, it’s very ecumenical and is a school for all Christians,” he said.