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 CNS Story:

ATONEMENT Nov-2-2009 (850 words) xxxn

Community marks centennial of reception into Catholic Church

By Beth Griffin
Catholic News Service

GARRISON, N.Y. (CNS) -- One hundred years before Pope Benedict XVI captured headlines by establishing a special structure for Anglicans who want to be in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement became the first religious group to be received into the church in its entirety.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Vatican ambassador to the United States, said the pope's recent overture to the Anglicans could be seen as a fruit of 100 years of prayers offered for the unity of the church by members of the Society of the Atonement.

Archbishop Sambi spoke at Mass Oct. 30 celebrating the centennial of the society's reception into the church. The Mass was concelebrated by New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan at Graymoor, the society's headquarters.

In remarks to some 400 people after the centennial Mass, Archbishop Sambi said, "Your charism is a charism of the future." From its founding in 1900, the Society of the Atonement has dedicated itself to Christian unity.

"The spirit of Jesus creates unity," said Archbishop Sambi. "Where there is love and unity, there is God. Where there is unity, there is a spirit of family."

Father James Puglisi, minister general of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, said the Atonement founders Father Paul Watson and Mother Lurana White made a "prophetic and revolutionary decision" when they asked to be received into the church.

They did not consider their action "conversion, but rather coming home and completing their faith by being united around the chair of Peter," he said. "They never felt or believed for one moment they had been outside of the Catholic faith."

The priests, sisters and lay members of the society were accepted into the church Oct. 30, 1909, in a ceremony held at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Graymoor.

Father Puglisi said it was the first time in church history that "a group entered into communion with Rome keeping their original name, their original religious habit and their original mission. The founders were insistent on the corporate aspect because they felt the original division was corporate and so should be the reunion."

Father Puglisi said the founders "knew the cost of their decision to follow their hearts' desire. This was the small price that they had to bear for following their consciences."

He said the cost was they were no longer in the Anglican Church, but they were not fully accepted in the Catholic Church. "It took a long time for them to be accepted."

Pope Benedict's special structure for Anglicans who want to be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while preserving aspects of their Anglican spiritual and liturgical heritage was announced Oct. 20 by Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Father Puglisi said there were echoes of the Atonement experience in Cardinal Levada's announcement.

Archbishop Sambi and Father Puglisi stressed that the pope's invitation to Anglicans was a pastoral one.

"It is not, as some media have reported, that the Catholic Church is going fishing in the Anglican pond," Archbishop Sambi said. "It is to make it easier for those who wish to go back to the Catholic Church to do so."

Father Puglisi said, "This was a response to a pastoral need. Many in the Anglican Church are anguished by certain things."

Anglican Bishop George Langberg, a guest at the Graymoor event, said the Atonement reception in 1909 was a precursor to the pope's welcome announcement. He is an Anglican bishop who wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to express his group's request for full communion with the Church.

Bishop Langberg is the retired head of the Northeast diocese of the Anglican Church in America, the U.S. branch of the Traditional Anglican Communion, which was formed in 1991 and opposes the ordination of women and sexually active homosexuals as priests and bishops.

He told Catholic News Service that he and 29 other bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion wrote to the Holy See in October 2007 to ask how they might "bring to fruition" the unity envisioned in 1966 by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury, England.

"I hope I can be forgiven for seeing Cardinal Levada's announcement first and foremost as Rome's answer to that question," the bishop said.

He said the Vatican announcement was not directed specifically at the Traditional Anglican Communion, but did respond to the communion's concerns and its "goal of unity in accordance with our Lord's will for his church."

He said the development is a small piece of the much bigger task of Christian unity. He said, "While the announced action is historic, it is a 'baby step' in a long and difficult journey."

Archbishop Dolan said, "The purpose of the church is to welcome people in. For 100 years, the people of the Society of the Atonement have been welcoming people into the church. Theirs is a beautiful ministry of hospitality."


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