Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun has been named the first ecumenical officer for the Diocese of St. Cloud.
Because the position is new for the diocese, there are still discussions underway as to what Father Vebelun’s specific duties include and what his relationship will be with the diocese’s longstanding Ecumenical Commission.
“I am not yet sure what I will be doing exactly, but I assume it will involve a lot of learning and active listening,” he said. “At the core, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue begins with respectful listening so we can know our areas of commonality and cooperation,” Father Vebelun said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a secretariat for ecumenical and interreligious affairs and has asked each diocese to identify an ecumenical officer.
“The position of ecumenical officer is a worldwide ecclesial position that is encouraged for every diocese because of the importance of unity,” Father Vebelun said. “As Christ prayed at the Last Supper, ‘That they may be one, Father, as you and I are one.’”
Father Vebelun, who will continue his role as pastor of the parishes of Sts. Peter and Paul in Richmond and St. Martin in St. Martin, brings with him the longstanding tradition of St. John’s Abbey in ecumenical and cultural efforts.
“St. John’s Abbey helped establish The Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research and the Jay Phillips Center for interfaith studies. We also host the Episcopal House of Prayer,” he said.
Additionally, having served as a missionary in Japan for 12 years, Father Vebelun was part of a church that represents only one out of every 300 Japanese. Christians make up about one percent of the population in general, he said. The majority religious traditions are Shinto and Buddhism.
“In that context I learned to appreciate the significance of distinctions and the uniqueness of each tradition while seeing the value of focusing on our commonality to realize Gospel values of the common good,” he said.
Father Vebelun will work to build bridges between Christian denominations as well as to foster understanding between interfaith groups in the diocese.
“We are blessed to have a wide variety of Christian denominations represented in our diocese. … Also, of course we are blessed to have Somali Muslims. The issues of enculturation and acceptance are natural, and to be expected. This requires a great deal of sensitivity and listening to sort out,” he said.