Bridgefolk conference focuses on an ‘ecumenical healing’

Mennonite-Catholic gathering remembers miracle

Sep 14, 2015 by and

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ELKHART, Ind. — The 14th annual Bridgefolk conference was held Aug. 20-23 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary under the theme, “Ecumenical Healing and the Mystery of the Communion of Saints.”

Bridgefolk is a movement of sacramentally minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s church.

Of the 90 participants gathered for this year’s conference, about 60 were Mennonite and 30 Catholic.

The conference included members of the Mennonite communities in Japan and of the Society of the Divine Word in Japan. Keynote speakers were Nozomu Yamada and Alfonso Fausone, both of Nanazan (Cath­olic) University in Nagoya, Japan.

Longtime Mennonite missionaries and educators Alan and Eleanor Kreider related the events at the heart of the conference: the miraculous healing from leukemia of Jun Yamada, a Japanese Mennonite, after intercessory prayers offered together by members of the Society of the Divine Word community and the Mennonite community in Japan.

Nozomu Yamada, Jun’s eldest brother, who was studying at AMBS in 1987 when Jun became ill, and Fausone told the story and reflected on their experiences and theological understandings of the events surrounding Jun’s healing.

This was followed by a panel of speakers: Yoko Aratani, Hiroyasu Kirai and Minoru Murano. They shared reminiscences of the spiritual pilgrimage in 2013 of Mennonites and Catholics from Japan and the U.S. to Italy to visit the Roman catacombs, where Jun Yamada now works as a scholar of early Christian art, and the Tyrolean birthplace of St. Josef Freinademetz, whom Fausone had invoked in his prayers and who was subsequently canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

Occurring near the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the conference featured a presentation of survivor stories by Shizuo Tachibana of the Hiroshima Mennonite Church, himself a second-generation survivor. This was followed by a service of remembrance and lament, organized by members of the Cath­olic Peace Fellowship in South Bend.

Common worship was woven throughout the conference in morning and midday prayer and Sunday worship with Prairie Street Mennonite Church. A hymn sing featured a litany of witnesses, composed by Aelred Senna, which drew names from the “cloud of witnesses” of both Anabaptist and Catholic traditions.

Central to this year’s conference and all Bridgefolk gatherings was the footwashing and agape meal, using a liturgy developed by Mary Schertz of AMBS and John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey, drawing on ancient liturgical forms and a current practice shared by Mennonites and Catholics.

For Bridgefolk, footwashing has become a poignant ritual of celebrating baptismal unity in Christ in a time when full Eucharistic communion is still not possible.

The 15th annual Bridgefolk conference is planned for July 28-31 at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn.

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