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Catholics and Protestants have different takes on Christianity

When sophomore Amber Fessler traveled from Pleasant Hill, Ohio, to study at the University last year, she found herself immersed in more than general education courses. In addition to preparing for a career as a high school math teacher, Fessler began searching for a Christian church in Bowling Green. She found two — one Protestant, and one Catholic — and a number of similarities, differences and misconceptions.

“I hadn’t really ever gone to services at other churches or explored what other faith groups were about and what they believed in,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed at college the opportunity … to kind of explore the different philosophies out there in order to better understand what I believe.”

A baptized Protestant, Fessler was raised in the Church of the Brethren, a Protestant church originally established in Germany in 1708 and not represented in Bowling Green. After a thorough, local church search, she became involved with both the United Methodist Student Organization and Veritas, a Catholic organization on campus.

Although Fessler said it’s hard to describe all of the differences between Catholics and Protestants (due in part to the many Protestant denominations), she has noticed significant differences in communion and baptism practices.

“The Catholic Church believes that the Eucharist, or communion, the bread and wine, is actually the body and blood of Christ,” she said, “and the Protestant churches I’ve been in believe it is meant as a symbol.”

Fessler said she also noticed Methodists and Catholics baptize infants, while the Church of the Brethren baptizes adults.

“I was dedicated as a baby, and then I was baptized as an adult,” she said. “[Dedication] is a similar process, but it’s more of a commitment by the community of the church and the parents to raise that child in that church. … Baptism is a way of forgiveness and wiping away that original sin.”

Father Mike Dandurand, pastor of St. Thomas More University Parish and a counselor for students in Veritas, said the Eucharist and baptism are two of seven sacraments practiced by Catholics.

“Catholics believe that the scriptures reveal that Christ intended to stay connected to his people once he ascended into heaven through seven different sacraments,” Dandurand said. “Sacraments are a bridge in which Christ continues to touch, heal, feed, guide, find, forgive.”

Becky Schofield, associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church and student minister for UMSO, said Methodists and Catholics share many of the same beliefs about God. Methodists also practice the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, she said.

Schofield said the Methodist denomination is also led by deacons and elders, along with district superintendents who preside over several counties and bishops who preside over several districts.

Dandurand said some people have misconceptions about Catholicism, including the idea that Catholics worship Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the saints.

“We do not worship anyone but God alone,” he said. “We may honor the saints, but honoring them doesn’t mean we worship them.”

Dandurand said another mistaken belief about Catholics is that they are not Christians.

“We are Christians,” he said, “baptized in Christ, and we have a personal relationship with Christ.”

Schofield said a misconception about all Christians is that they are judgmental.

“Most Christians just want to follow the teachings of Christ, where the focus is serving God, and in serving God and being like Christ … we are sharing God’s love through our service,” she said.

Fessler said Protestants and Catholics should be open to asking each other questions about their beliefs.

“In the end, it’s better to hear their point of view and get a better understanding of what they believe than to just go on not knowing or assuming that you’re mostly correct,” Fessler said.

Fessler said people should hold back their religious judgments until they have researched beliefs different from their own.

“Just because they’ve talked to one Protestant or one Catholic doesn’t mean they necessarily know the whole view,” she said. “You can’t really understand and even begin to think that you know about a religion until you’ve spent extensive time studying that religion and really trying to understand what they believe from their perspective.”

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