(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Walter Kasper, former head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was the key speaker in Washington’s National Cathedral on Saturday at a conference exploring the ecumenical and interfaith impact of the Second Vatican Council. The conference is the 9th annual encounter organised by the Ecclesiological Investigations Network which brings together theologians from a broad spectrum of different churches and faith communities. Philippa Hitchen is attending the four day event sent this report.
Francis is an evangelical pope and the Church of the 21st century has a charismatic face. Those were among the most striking statements at the heart of the cardinal’s remarks, which received a lengthy standing ovation from the academics and experts working at the coalface of ecumenical and interfaith relations in countries across the globe.
The 82 year-old Kasper, who began studying for the priesthood two years before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, said that historic event raised hopes high by opening the Catholic Church to the ecumenical era. The most important result of the past half century, he said, was not the wealth of doctrinal agreements that have been drawn up by resulting dialogue commissions, but rather the rediscovery of each other as baptised Christians, whichever denomination or Christian community we may belong to. All theological discussion, he stressed, must be firmly rooted in the real-life experience of individual believers.
But the great expectations raised by the Council half a century ago¸ the cardinal continued, have not been fulfilled and the work of implementing its prophetic vision has only just begun. Pope Francis, he said, has energised the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements, he stressed, should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.
Speaking with a real sense of urgency, his distinctive German accent echoing under the soaring white stone columns of the giant cathedral, the cardinal said the challenge of the Council fathers must be taken up by the young generation and not succumb to new tensions that threaten the quest for full, visible unity of the whole Christian family. Unity, he stressed, is a gift of the Spirit – that very same Spirit that Christians throughout the world are celebrating this Pentecost Sunday. What better time to take seriously this urgent call to each one of us to conversion, reconciliation and rededication to the cause of healing the divided Body of Christ?