‘John 17’ unites Catholics and Protestants for day of prayer

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted speaks during the John 17 Movement Celebrating Christian Unity event at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center on May 23, 2015. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted speaks during the John 17 Movement Celebrating Christian Unity event at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center on May 23, 2015. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Not so long ago, the idea of bringing together hundreds of Catholic and Protestant followers of Christ for a day of prayer was unthinkable. Then came the John 17 Movement.

More than 1,000 people raised their hands in prayer, sang and cheered as clergy and leaders from both the Catholic Church and various Christian denominations took to the stage at the Phoenix Convention Center May 23. Even Pope Francis got in on the action by way of a specially-recorded video presentation.

“I will be with you spiritually,” the pope said, pointing to his heart. “And with all my heart. We will search together, we will pray together for the grace of unity.”

Applause broke out as participants watched the presentation in rapt attention.

In his address to the group, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix referred to a recent statement by Pope Francis about the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS in February. The pontiff stated there was an “ecumenism of blood” since “before killing them, they don’t ask if they’re Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics or Orthodox.” This seldom-recalled fact could be an invitation by Christ to recall the words of Luke 9:23, the bishop said, that Christians must take up their cross daily and that whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will save it.

“I am convinced that our efforts to promote Christian unity must be built on the wisdom of the cross, and thus imbued with the wisdom of the Beatitudes, which are lifted before our eyes by Jesus in all the hours of His suffering and death,” Bishop Olmsted said.

Christians from many different dominations came together to celebrate Jesus during the John 17 Movement Celebrating Christian Unity event at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center on May 23, 2015.  (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Christians from many different dominations came together to celebrate Jesus during the John 17 Movement Celebrating Christian Unity event at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center on May 23, 2015. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Kim Scoggin, director of music at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe, was touched by the day of prayer and praise, the culmination of an effort toward unity in the body of Christ that sparked 18 months ago. Raised a Southern Baptist, she became a Catholic in 1996, after belonging to a non-denominational church.

“We’ve got to reach out across the board to all the churches so that we can somehow bridge the gap,” Scoggin said. “We’re still missing a lot of brothers and sisters.”

As a musician, Scoggin said she related to a demonstration by the keyboard artist at the event who showed what happens when Christians of various denominations sing the same song — in several different keys and all at the same time, producing an unharmonious cacophony.

“I thought it was a great analogy. We are singing the same song but we are in two or three or four different keys and together we make a lot of noise,” Scoggin said.

Christians from many different dominations came together to celebrate Jesus during the John 17 Movement Celebrating Christian Unity event at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center on May 23, 2015. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Christians from many different dominations came together to celebrate Jesus during the John 17 Movement Celebrating Christian Unity event at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center on May 23, 2015. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Suzy Vulaca of North Scottsdale Christian Church, who helped lead music for the day, agreed.

“People can pick out so many things that can divide us but it’s like we’re not trying to focus on that. We’re really focusing on the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, what unites us and it’s Jesus, it’s the cross,” Vulaca said.

Rosa Elena Cruz Muñiz, a Catholic, delivered an impassioned plea in Spanish.

“Brothers and sisters, if you and I try to unite with our own strength, not having God being part of that picture, we are not going to accomplish anything. It’s like a Tower of Babel,” Muñiz said. “But when we unite as Jesus asked, the world will know that He is alive. Today Jesus is asking you, is begging you: unite!”

The daylong celebration was entirely bilingual, with Dcn. Narciso Macia of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Queen Creek and others simultaneously interpreting each presentation. The afternoon featured a litany of reconciliation. The John 17 movement is planning future events in August and December as well as March 2016.