(Editor's note: Father Kane, a retired priest of the Albany Diocese, has been the diocesan ecumenical director since 1982.)

Relations between evangelical Protestants and Catholics can be tense. They are hesitant about ecumenism, fearing a watering down of the Gospel, and we are unhappy at perceived sheep-stealing, as so many former Catholics attend evangelical mega-churches.

A happy exception was the 1990 Rev. Dr. Billy Graham Crusade in Albany. Billy insisted that his crusades be ecumenical and so would not come to a city for a crusade without an invitation from the local clergy. Then-Bishop Howard J. Hubbard-following the example of Cardinal John O'Connor, leader at that time of the New York Archdiocese-joined many local Protestant (mostly evangelical) clergy in extending that invitation.

As a result, as the ecumenical director of the Albany Diocese, I was invited to be on the organizing committee, along with 10 other local Catholics. We were appointed by the Bishop on April 17, 1989.

Meetings were held at Pine­view Community Church in Albany. To say that we were welcomed members of the team would be overstated. Most other members had never been on a team that included Catholics. Gradually, over many months of meetings, relations warmed, especially with host pastors Rev. Rex Keener and Rev. Donald Paine.

Incidentally, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger met with Rev. Keener early in his episcopate to help discern the attraction of Catholics to his and similar churches. Rev. Paine is someone with whom I continue to have a warm relationship.

Because of that involvement, during the crusade at the Times Union (then Knickerbocker) Arena, when the traditional "altar call" was made, Catholics who attended were directed to Catholic parishes-an early form of local evangelization. Of the 79,500 people in attendance, more than 1,700 were Catholic. Some of these folks continue to be active Catholics.

Following the crusade, an ecumenical group was formed: COPESA, or "Committee of Prayer, Evangelization and Social Action."

It met regularly for a dozen years. I continue to be a member of the Capital District Ministers' Fellowship of evangelical and Anglican pastors, chaired by Rev. Jay Francis. The group plans the annual National Day of Prayer, among other events.

In an increasingly secularized society, bridge-building with fellow Christians and grassroots ecumenism is crucial. The death of "America's pastor," Rev. Billy Graham, gives us an icon of such relations.

"Our greatest need is moral and spiritual renewal," said the Rev. Graham. "We need it first of all in our personal lives, for only then will we discover who we are, why we are here and where we are ultimately going. We need it in our families, to heal broken relationships and learn the true meaning of self-giving love. We need it in our nation and our world, to overcome injustice and suffering and advance the cause of peace."