Dr. Derek Hatch Visits Rome as Part of the International Dialogue Between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church
Submitted on January 6, 2023
Endowed Chair of Baptist Studies and Professor of Religion Dr. Derek Hatch recently visited Rome as part of a longstanding dialogue between the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Catholic Church, hosted by the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (DPCU). Dr. Hatch has participated in the dialogue since 2017. This year, the commission was granted an audience with Pope Francis.
“It was a truly amazing and humbling experience to meet Pope Francis. I was struck by the depth of reflection and the caring concern in his comments and in his presence. He also was generous in considering the ways in which Catholics could learn from Baptists. What we saw in our meeting was a leader with a pastor’s heart for the world,” said Dr. Hatch.
Baptists and Catholics have been engaged in international conversations since 1984, with the goals of gaining mutual understanding, clarifying theological matters, and identifying possibilities for cooperation. The focus of the current phase is “The Dynamic of the Gospel and the Witness of the Church Today.” The meeting in Rome was devoted to drafting a report on the current dialogue and planning for its subsequent reception and discussing future plans. The commission is co-chaired by Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop Emeritus of Paterson and adjunct professor of Biblical Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and Dr. Elizabeth Newman, adjunct professor of theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, Dr. Newman is also the chair of the BWA Commission on Baptist Doctrine and Christian Unity. This year the dialogue was enriched by the presence of Rev. Dr. Elijah Brown, BWA General Secretary.
On December 14, Pope Francis received the commission in a private audience and engaged with them in conversation concerning different topics of common interest, such as the importance of learning how to be pastors according to the gospel who avoid the dangers of clericalism; growing in mutual concern for one another as well as for the poorest and needy in the world; and establishing relationships that allow Baptists and Catholics to discuss the theological problems at the heart of their divisions. Rev. Dr. Tomás Mackey, elected President of the BWA, referred to the importance of growing in a mutual recognition that provides new possibilities for joint Baptist-Catholic witness to the world and expressed readiness for any initiative that encourages peace and reconciliation. At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis and the members of the commission said together the Lord’s Prayer.
After the audience with Pope Francis, the commission visited the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and met with Prefect Cardinal Kurt Koch. The program included a prayer that highlighted witnesses to the power of the gospel from both traditions, a presentation concerning the current phase of dialogue, and an exchange concerning the challenges and opportunities for Christian unity and Baptist-Catholic relations in particular. Cardinal Koch expressed his gratitude for the work accomplished by the dialogue.
As this concludes the scheduled meetings for this dialogue commission, Dr. Hatch reflected on his experience with hope for the future. “Working towards church unity is hard work, and it requires the long view because learning from one another happens when commit the time to build relationships. As the members of the commission – both Baptist and Catholic – have prayed together, worked together, and eaten meals together over these five years, we have developed a friendship that we hope can serve as a model for our respective communions going forward as we seek greater unity.”
The commission for Phase III met initially in 2017 to discuss “Sources of Common Witness” in Waco, Texas. Its second meeting in Rome, Italy in 2018 focused on the “Contexts of Common Witness” represented by six continents worldwide. A third meeting examined “Challenges to Common Witness” in Warsaw, Poland in 2019. The dialogue postponed its plans for a fourth meeting in 2022 due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it held a two-day continuation meeting virtually in June 2021 to discuss the written record of their work and to discuss possibilities for holding a meeting in December 2021. A fourth meeting of the dialogue employed a “hybrid” format in light of the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an in-person meeting in Durham, North Carolina for North American and Caribbean participants, and other commission members joining virtually; it took up the theme of “Forms of Common Witness,” recognizing ways in which Baptists and Catholics have already been engaging in a shared witness to the dynamic of the gospel and envisioning ways in which the two communions might more intentionally and more fully collaborate in offering the world a common witness to Christ. To learn more about the Baptist World Alliance, visit https://baptistworld.org.