Pope Hailed as Champion of Ecumenism; John Paul Preached Unity among Different Religions and Sought to Heal Rifts

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY, The Times-Union

Yes, he was adored by millions of the world's Catholics and respected by its political leaders. And yes, he helped topple communism and end the Cold War.

But to many, one of Pope John Paul II's greatest accomplishments was his effort to dismantle the barriers between Catholics and Protestants, and among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"He had a passion for that," said Bishop Victor Galeone, spiritual leader of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine.

He also had a simple formula, Galeone said: "Stress that which unites us instead of what divides us."

With that ethic in mind, Catholic leaders in Florida and the First Coast have launched interfaith dialogue programs over the years and, more visibly, overlooked theological differences to join forces with Protestants to oppose abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage.

Catholics in Florida worked with Protestants to fight the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and are campaigning with evangelicals to ban same-sex marriage in Florida.

"That's an example of interfaith collaboration and bringing the values that the two hold dear to the forefront," said the Rev. Daniel Logan, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea parish in Ponte Vedra Beach and ecumenical moderator for the diocese.

From the evangelical perspective, the shift became noticeable about a decade ago.

"What I have noticed in the state of Florida is that the Florida Catholic Conference, for probably the past 10 years, has been working with other pro-family groups on legislation and other issues," said Bill Stephens, executive director of the Orlando-based Christian Coalition of Florida.

The Christian Coalition of America issued a statement praising John Paul II for his devotion to family causes.

Praise for the pope's ecumenism -- and hope for a continuation of those efforts in his successor -- come from other quarters as well.

"I was a great admirer of the pope," said Rabbi Gary Perras, spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Daytona Beach and formerly of Beth Shalom Congregation, a synagogue in Jacksonville.

Perras said he was won over by John Paul's historic visit to a synagogue in Israel, his apology for the church's involvement in the persecution of Jews and for his rock-hard stance on "sanctity of life issues. …

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