Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
PINECREST | Lutherans and Catholics literally built on ecumenical good will Oct. 1 as they dedicated a prayer labyrinth built by volunteers from both faith groups.
The 40-foot circular structure, on the grounds of the archdiocesan MorningStar Renewal Center, was one of several events organized for Reformation 500, the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation. Plans have also included joint worship, a hymn festival and a symposium of top church thinkers.
Leaders of Lutheran and Catholic groups attended the dedication, including about 50 volunteers who helped lay the 9,500 paving bricks. Several of them emphasized the labyrinth as a way to walk, pray and meditate, three things that don’t depend on church attendance.
"It's very much in the ecumenical spirit of MorningStar," said Annemarie Harris Block, chairman of the board for the center. "And it's something literally concrete to show for our efforts. Something tangible that will survive long after we're gone. It's a gift and a blessing."
Lutheran minister John Mocko, who helped dedicate the labyrinth, called it a sign that the conflicts of past centuries between Catholics and Lutherans are being dialed back.
"It's a sign that we're moving away from conflict and toward communion," said Mocko, assistant to interim Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the Florida-Bahamas Synod for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "I think the Spirit of God is moving us toward unity in Jesus Christ."
Mocko shared duties for the event with several other leaders. They included Father Pat O'Neill, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami; and the Rev. Walter Still, Reformation 500 chair for the Lutheran synod. Also speaking were local Lutheran pastors Kathryn Carroll and Andreas Thode, who helped lead the labyrinth project.
After a welcome by Sue DeFerrari, director of ministry for MorningStar, the service featured songs including a chant by the ecumenical Taize community in France. Attendees also recited responsive prayers asking God to bless the site.
The religious leaders then solemnly entered the labyrinth, with everyone else following. With guitar accompaniment by Michael DeFerrari, Sue's husband, they quietly traced the folding 1,700-foot pathway.
All on the same path
The walk was a "wonderful thing" to Caridad Escudero Marill of St. Francis de Sales parish on Miami Beach.
"It was delicious to bump into each other, to meet eyes and smile," said Marill, chaplain at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. "I started with prayer intentions, but then it became a joy just to be walking. And I ended with a sense of 'How do I serve you?'"
Fellow parishioner Patricia Valderama said she likewise got a feeling of being in the moment. "You lose sight of daily life; you're just all walking the labyrinth at different places. That gives you empathy for everything, to be aware that everyone is walking the labyrinth."
While everyone was well into the labyrinth, Sue DeFerrari asked them to stand in place, join hands and recite the Lord's Prayer.
The labyrinth is the centerpiece of a vest-pocket park including benches and small trees. One of them, a mahogany sapling, was itself the subject of a formal dedication along with the labyrinth. It's one of 500 to be planted in several nations, in tandem with a tree-planting project in Wittenberg, Germany, birthplace of the Reformation.
Walter Still said the inspiration came from a quote attributed to Martin Luther, founder of the Reformation: "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
Still said the quote strikes a needed optimistic note. "The world is always gloom and doom," he said. "But with God, there's always a future."
The dedication is part of a year of observances planned worldwide by Catholics and Protestants, simultaneously recognizing two things.
One is the split among Christians after Oct. 31, 1517, when Luther nailed a list of 95 beliefs to the door of a church in Germany, protesting what he saw as flaws of the Church. Wars, disputes and reform movements followed.
The other focus of the observances is the series of modern efforts, especially since Vatican II in the 1960s, to undo the rupture and regain a common understanding of the faith. Last October, Pope Francis joined Lutheran World Federation leaders at a church in Lund, Sweden, to launch the Reformation 500 year.
Father O'Neill, the archdiocesan ecumenist, marveled at the speed of interchurch relations over the last two generations.
"We did nothing for 400 years," he said. "But we've done many things after Vatican II that have brought us closer together."
Wings of its own
Plans for the Pinecrest labyrinth stretch back a year; but it took shape over seven months, starting with groundbreaking on Feb. 26. About 70 volunteers from churches in Broward and Miami-Dade counties dug, built, planted and laid paver bricks over three days, including Sept. 2 and 3.
Topping 1,000 hours, the volunteer work made it possible to meet the $30,000 budget. The sum came from two dozen donations by churches, companies and individuals.
"The project had wings of its own," Sue DeFerrari said. "As soon as we put out the request, people offered their talents and resources."
It was a sizable project involving an enormous "kit" of 9,500 pre-cut pavers from the Connecticut-based Labyrinth Company. Supervising the volunteers was Emilio Criado, who runs a construction company in Pinecrest. He donated his time as well as those of two of his workers.
"I embraced this because I like puzzles," said Criado, a member of nearby St. Louis Parish. More seriously, he said: "It was a privilege to journey with the volunteers. It was very rewarding."
After the pavers were laid in place, a substance called polymeric sand was swept into the chinks between them. Then the labyrinth was hosed down, fusing the sand into a tight bond that locks out weeds and ant nests.
Two other volunteers gave the dedication two thumbs up. Vinnie and Barbara Tria not only helped build the labyrinth, but they embody the ecumenical ideal: Vinnie attends St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center in Coral Gables, while Barbara attends Christ the King Lutheran Church in Pinecrest.
Barbara Tria said she was excited to see the leaders themselves walk the labyrinth, followed by everyone else. She also praised the idea of a labyrinth as a general-purpose spiritual tool.
"It's a blessing for the whole community, for anyone to use …" she said.
"… whether you're Lutheran or Catholic or have no affiliation," Vinnie Tria said, finishing her sentence. "I'm anxious to see what year 501 brings."
Reformation 500: The final chapter in South Florida
Culminating the Reformation 500 events in South Florida will be a Lutheran-Catholic gathering at St. Mary Cathedral, 7525 NW Second Ave., Miami. The music-themed event is set for 4 p.m. Oct. 29, two days before the exact 500th anniversary of the launch of the Reformation.
Co-presiding at that event will be Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, along with Bishop Marcus Lohrmann, interim bishop for the Lutheran synod.