Bari, Italy (December 11, 2004) – The International Commission for Dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Catholic Church held its first session of the fourth phase of its dialogue at the Oasi Santa Maria Retreat Center in Cassano delle Murge (outside Bari), Italy on December 6-11, 2004. The focus of this phase of dialogue is to explore the theme, “The Presence of Christ in the Church, with special reference to the Eucharist.”

This meeting served as a time of orientation for the new members who have joined the dialogue team, both from the Disciples and the Roman Catholics, in getting to know the dialogue partners and in reviewing the work of the previous years (1977-2002). Dr. David M. Thompson (Disciples) presented a paper summarizing the background of the dialogue, with a response by Dr. Margaret O’Gara (Catholic), that examined the three previous “agreed statements” on “Apostolicity and Catholicity” (1982), “The Church as Communion in Christ” (1992), and “Receiving and Handing on the Faith: the Mission and Responsibility of the Church” (2002).

The major topic of this session took up the broad issues in understanding “The Presence of Christ in the Church.” Dr. Robert Louis Wilken (Catholic) presented a major paper on this theme, with responses by Dr. William Tabbernee (Disciples) and the Most Rev. Basil Meeking (Catholic). The discussion explored questions and challenges to both the Disciples and the Roman Catholic traditions in seeking to describe the presence of Christ in the life of the believer and in the corporate reality of the Church. An “internal memorandum” was developed by the Commission out of its discussion and dialogue identifying areas of emerging agreement and points for further work on the overall theme, including the various sources for understanding the presence of Christ in the Church and holiness in the life of individual Christians. The next session of the dialogue will take place in December 2005, addressing the topic of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

An important element in the dialogue meeting was the daily experiences in worship and common prayer, including a special occasion to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas in the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari. In the opening worship of the Commission, it was noted that this dialogue has chosen dates for itself that mean that it will be taking place each year during the season of Advent. In a significant way, this represents the “advent hope” of this dialogue in anticipation of Christ’s presence in preparing for the visible unity of the church.

Members of the dialogue team include, for Disciples of Christ: The Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee (co-chair), the Rev. Merryl Blair, the Rev. Dr. James O. Duke, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the Rev. Marjorie Lewis, the Rev. Kay Bessler Northcutt, the Rev. Dr. David M. Thompson, and the Rev. Dr. Robert K. Welsh (co-secretary); and, for Catholics: the Most Rev. Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB (co-chair), the Most Rev. Basil Meeking, the Most Rev. Gerhard Muller [not present], the Rt. Rev Abbot Denis Farkasfalvy, O.Cist. [not present], Dr. Margaret O’Gara, Dr. Lawrence J. Welch, Dr. Robert LouisWilken, and the Rev. Msgr. John Mutiso-Mbinda (co-secretary).