GARRISON, N.Y. (CNS) — From a Catholic perspective, Christian churches and denominations are closer than ever after 50 years of ecumenical engagement and dialogue, even if the overall picture of Christian unity today may look sad, as doctrinal disagreements lead to more schisms.

This was Atonement Father James Loughran’s message at a Jan. 25 prayer service in Garrison.

The priest, who is director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, preached at one of eight ecumenical prayer services held to mark the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.


“Building up relationships across denominational lines is vital if we are to grow with ecumenical hearts and not only ecumenical heads,” he said. “If we love one another, we have to be able to appreciate diversity.”

Dialogue continues between the Catholic Church and leaders of the Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Baptist churches and other denominations, he said.

“Enthusiasm for ecumenism is not as vigorous in the United States as it was 40 years ago when it was new and exciting,” Father Loughran told Catholic News Service. He attributed this to the slow nature of the process and a lack of trust in God.

“We don’t depend on God for the ecumenical movement as we should. It’s a sin of rupture that divides us, not a grace,” Father Loughran said.

“Anybody who is a believer is striving for a relationship with God. We can only comprehend if we get to know one another,” he said.

The prayer service at Graymoor, the headquarters of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, was part of the worldwide observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week is a collaborative effort of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Since 1968, the two groups have met to choose a theme and prepare texts and resources for the observance. The theme for 2019 is “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue,” from Chapter 16, Verse 2, of the Book of Deuteronomy.

The Week of Prayer began as an octave of prayer, sermons and conferences encouraged by Pope Leo XIII and Anglican leaders.


The event was celebrated for the first time in January 1908 at Graymoor by Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, the Episcopal co-founders of the Society of the Atonement.

In 1909, the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement and 13 of their lay associates were received into the Catholic Church. The Atonement priests, sisters and brothers work for reconciliation and healing through the unity of men and women with God and one another, in fulfillment of the mandate from the Gospel of John: “That they all may be one.”

According to Father Loughran, Father Wattson — who has been given the title “servant of God” because his canonization cause has been opened — was inspired by St. Clare and St. Francis of Assisi to uphold the dignity of the poor and sick and to work for justice.

Early in the 20th century, the priest warned of the dangers of opiates and said addiction is a disease, not a vice. St. Christopher’s Inn, the homeless shelter and alcohol and drug treatment facility he established at Graymoor in 1903, has gained international renown for its long-term success rate.

“Transformation stories there border on the miraculous,” Father Loughran said.

Father Wattson also was a founder of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Medical Mission Board and the Union That Nothing Be Lost, which still funds charitable, missionary and ecumenical efforts.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan opened the Atonement co-founder’s sainthood cause in 2015, and the results of a meticulous archdiocesan investigation were sent to the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes in 2017. In December 2018, a supplemental inquiry was officially closed and accepted by the congregation.

Father Brian F. Terry, minister general of the Friars of the Atonement, said since the founder’s cause was opened, thousands of people from many countries have contacted the Father Paul of Graymoor Guild to report favors received through Father Wattson’s intercession and to request prayer cards and medals. As yet, there have been no reported miracles.

In general the Catholic Church requires two miracles verified as having occurred through the intercession of the sainthood candidate — one is need for beatification and one for canonization.

More than 10,000 copies of a popular biography, “Fire in the Night,” have been distributed in English, French, Italian and Japanese. A Spanish translation is underway.

Father Terry said he is optimistic that the cause will proceed smoothly because the congregation found that Father Wattson’s writings had “doctrinal consistency.” In addition, the example of his life includes the founding of a religious order and the “ongoing miracle” of St. Christopher’s Inn as a ministry of healing, he said.

Father Loughran also noted that the congregation accepted the founder’s designation as “Apostle of Christian Unity and Charity,” which he said is a rarely used description.

While the sainthood process is underway in the Catholic Church, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted in July 2018 to consider Father Wattson as an addition to its “calendar of commemorations” at the next convention in 2021.

People on the calendar are acknowledged to be holy men and holy women, akin to saints, said the Rev. Margaret Rose, is the Episcopal Church’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration.