(Vatican Radio) The search for full Christian unity remains a priority for the Catholic Church and it is one of the Pope’s principle daily concerns. That was the message that Pope Francis shared on Thursday with members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity who are taking part in a plenary session in the Vatican this week. The meeting includes a public commemoration at the Gregorian University on Friday of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II decree ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’. That document marked the start of a new era in the Catholic Church’s relations with Christians of all different denominations. Philippa Hitchen reports:
In a letter given to participants during a meeting at Santa Marta, the Pope notes that the Vatican II teaching, contained in ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’, as well as the other two ecclesiological texts ‘Lumen Gentium’ and ‘Orientalium Ecclesiarum’ has been fully embraced. Earlier hostility and indifference that caused such deep wounds between Christians, the Pope says, have given way to a process of healing that allows us to welcome others as brothers and sisters, united in our common baptism.
This changed mentality, he says, must penetrate ever more deeply into the theological teachings and pastoral practise of dioceses, institutes of consecrated life, associations and ecclesial movements. At the same time, he adds, this anniversary offers an opportunity to give thanks to God that we can now appreciate all that is good and true within the life of the different Christian communities.
Pope Francis thanks all those who, over the past half century, have pioneered this process of reconciliation and he mentions the important role that ecumenical translations of the Bible have played in developing closer cooperation among Christians.
But as we give thanks, the Pope says, we must also recognise continuing divisions and new ethical issues which are complicating our journey towards unity in Christ. Rather than being resigned to the difficulties, he says, we must continue to trust in God who plants seeds of love in the hearts of all Christians.
Finally the Pope calls for a renewed commitment to spiritual ecumenism and to the rediscovery of shared Christian martyrdom. Spiritual ecumenism, he says, is that global network of communal moments of prayer, united gestures of charity and shared reflections on the web which circulate like oxygen, contributing to the growth of understanding, respect and mutual esteem. Ecumenism of the martyrs, he notes, continues today wherever our brothers and sisters sacrifice their lives for their faith, since those who persecute Christ’s followers make no distinction between the different Christian confessions.
In my many encounters or correspondence with other Christians, Pope Francis concludes, I see a strong desire to walk and pray together, to know and love the Lord and to work together in the service of the weak and suffering. On this common journey, he says, I am convinced that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can learn from each other and grow into the communion which already unites us.