By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

UKRAINE – The prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper for His followers “that all may be one,” has been among the most elusive of goals for Christians through the centuries. There has been disunity because of doctrinal and, cultural differences and a growing apart because of geographic distance.

The Ukrainian Catholic Lviv University is addressing this latter obstacle to Christian unity in a modest way through a newly instituted distance learning program in Ecumenical Studies via the Internet.

“Our faculty is one-third Catholic (Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic) one-third Protestant and one third Orthodox,” said Brett McCaw, an American Catholic who coordinates the distance learning program. “Our first semester is an introduction to the three traditions – Catholic, Protestant and Eastern.”

The very first class of eight students is itself representative. It includes Roman Catholics from the U.S. and China, Anglicans from Nigeria, Italy and the U.S., a Ukrainian Catholic from the U.S. and a Greek Catholic from France. The faculty is also drawn from experts in the ecumenical field from various educational institutes around the world.

The University of Lviv is uniquely suited for such a program, McCaw believes, because Ukraine has been a historic meeting place for Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholics, and they have a shared experience of having survived under an atheist totalitarian regime.

“The inspiration to create a distance learning program comes, in a sense, from the nature of the field itself,” said Antoine Arjakovsky, director of the Ukrainian Catholic University’s Institute of Ecumenical Studies.

“Ecumenism and the ecumenical movement are driven by a desire to gather the dispersed people of God. Distance learning gives us the opportunity to gather from around the world those who are deeply concerned by the disunity among Christian churches, creating an online community that, in being educated together, engages critical questions and seeks possibilities for healing,” he said.

The distance-learning program in Ecumenical Studies is a graduate level program designed to lead to a master’s degree in Ecumenical Studies – although inspanidual courses may be taken by others who are not pursuing a degree.

The master’s program is designed to be completed in two years but students who wish to study part-time may take up to six years. The two-year program consists of three semesters; the first two filled with required courses, the third semester for electives chosen from the offered course menu.

In addition to communicating with their professors online, the students interact with their peers through a forum and blogs, as well as through teleconferences.

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Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.