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Queens Protestants saw pope as a world uniter

"He was a great man, he had a great influence in the Catholic church and the whole world," said Rev. John Smucker of the First Presbyterian Church of Flushing. "I believe that he really tried to make a difference, he was for peace, he was for bringing people together."That was exactly the ecumenical theme that Rev. David Westcott of the Bowne Street Community Church in Flushing weaved into his Sunday mass."I addressed it by talking in my sermon on Sunday a little bit about (the pope's) passing," Westcott said. "But I kind of used it as a jumping off point of talking about my sadness about how our traditions are still divided, and we should still be striving to heal the rift between Protestants and Roman Catholics." The Protestant movement, which formed in the 1500s after breaking from the Catholic church, embodies denominations such as the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Lutheran congregations.In Flushing at the Bowne Street Community Church, Westcott presides over both the United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church of America. Combined churches like this are not rare in the Protestant tradition."It's becoming more and more common due to the tremendous loss of church membership over the last 40 years," Westcott said. "A lot of different churches are kind of teaming up together."As for the Protestant churches learning to work together with the Roman Catholic diocese, he said strides have been made recently. "In the last 40, 50 years there's been tremendous strides made in that regard, but there's still a long way to go," Westcott said. "There's just far more of an openness between the denominations now and ministers and priests can sit down and discuss ways that would not have been possible before Vatican II."Vatican II, an Ecumenical Council that opened under Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965, made some Catholic Church practices more lenient, such as the use of local languages rather than Latin for mass. It also adopted a new attitude toward non-Catholics."I used to pastor a church in Vermont that had an actual written covenant between my church and the local Roman Church that we would come together on matters of mission," Westcott said. His Flushing house of worship has no similar covenant, however.Rev. Charles Brewster of the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills, who also sits on the city Presbytery, or governing board for the denomination, said he always believed John Paul II embodied the ecumenical spirit."No one can quite match what John XXIII did in terms of reaching out to Protestants, when he talked about Protestants as our 'separated brethren,'" Brewster said. "This pope also had his commitments. He was particularly interested in reaching out to churches closest to the Catholic church, the Anglicans and the Orthodox."On Sunday, he spoke about how the pope humanized the Catholic church."I was preaching at a church in the Bronx, the Riverdale Presbyterian Church, and I specifically included the pope in my sermon on the body of Christ and the fact that the pope reached out to people around the world to say that the church is the people, it not an institution," Brewster said. "My point was exactly that the pope especially tried to emphasize that the Catholic church is the people and that all of the people are the body of Christ. He was a great man, an amazing pontificate."Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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