What do you get when thousands of young Catholic and evangelical Christians gather together to savor Catholic music and film work?
We call it "The Change," and this is exactly what recently happened in the hearts of pilgrims in Lisbon, Portugal, who encountered the Lord alongside "The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie, and Catholic musician Matt Maher.
The two speak with EWTN Vatican Bureau Chief, Andreas Thonhauser, during an episode of EWTN News Nightly about the near 70,000-attendee stadium gathering of Christian praise and worship music, separate from the main events occurring during this year's World Youth Day.
When asked about what kind of change they both aim for, Maher responds, "The first thing is reflecting on the change that happens in the life of every believer.”
“When we meet the Lord and, as Catholics, participate in the sacramental life of the Church,” Maher comments, “there's a little transformation that's happening."
The effect of personally encountering the Lord, Maher adds, reflects a "grace on grace" that, with time, helps "our lives slowly improve and form into the image of Christ."
As for the second kind of change expected at this event, Maher comments that it's the type of change "a lot of people here all felt compelled to make a stand for, which is the change that happens when Christians, despite the hundreds of years of separation and division, with separated families and communities being torn apart, could somehow stand together and agree on a prayer that Jesus Himself prayed in John 17: that His followers would be as close to each other as He is with His own Father."
"I think that there is this concerted effort towards unity in the Body of Christ that is blessed, so to speak, by the pope himself,” Maher continues.
Commenting on the audience's response to him and Roumie, he shares, "Everyone on that stage tonight loves that Jonathan [Roumie] is Catholic and loves that I'm Catholic.”
“They wouldn't want us to be anything different,” Maher adds, “and it represents a radical shift in what a lot of people have thought of when they think of ecumenism."
Ecumenism is, in Maher's opinion, similar to “what Bishop Barron calls ‘Ecumenism 2.0’ which is rooted in friendship, relationship, and robust dialogue."
He continues, "[So] when you're doing something together, it [then] creates a foundation and a friendship."
Thonhauser sums it well by saying that ecumenism is "not about giving things up about your faith...but really finding what unites us.”
Maher agrees about first finding common ground and adds that "when we do that, the real dialogue begins."
"There are real theological differences," he points out, "and you can't pretend they don't exist. But, you're not going to solve them in an arena with 65,000 young people," Maher stresses.
When asked if one can evangelize through art, Roumie responds, "Art reaches into the heart, the emotions, and the soul, and so once you start doing that, everything else opens up."
He also emphasizes that "the heart has to [first] open up before the mind."
Reflecting on the overall impact "The Change" event will make on young people, Maher chimes in that it first "carries on the legacy of [Pope] John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict [XVI], and what their vision of World Youth Day would be."
Thonhauser concludes the interview by asking Maher and Roumie what they hope the young people will take away from the event, to which Roumie responds, "Renewed zeal to dialogue with people who may not believe exactly what they do."
He adds, "To hold fast to, especially as a Catholic, the things that you abide by [such as] the sacramental life.”
“And to be witnesses,” Roumie concludes, “as to why we believe what we believe and to be able to share that, in love, with people [in order] to draw them into it."
Let us conclude with this prayer from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for unity among our Christian brethren:
God of all, our hearts and bodies are thankful for this opportunity to come before you to confess our sins of injustice and divisiveness. Together we come before you, a holy family, united in the beautiful diversity of your creation: some of us are Indigenous peoples, some of us are descendants of the enslaved, some of us are descendants of the enslavers, some of us are migrants, some of us are refugees, but all of us are part of the one Body of Christ. We praise you that through the living waters of baptism our sins, red as scarlet, were washed away and we were healed, as we became part of the beloved community, the family of God. We offer our thanksgiving and praise to you, Creator God. Together on this journey, we celebrate with our hearts and eyes open to understanding and growing in the sacred wisdom that is shared and passed amongst all people. Help us to embrace unity with each other, and remind us that we are of one family gathered by your Holy Spirit, in the midst of your creation.