(Vatican Radio) Christian Churches around the world and especially in the northern hemisphere on Monday celebrate the start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. During the eight day period, churches and communities hold joint worship services, bible studies and other encounters aimed at promoting greater understanding and closer cooperation among members of the different denominations.
The theme for this year’s celebration, jointly published by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order, is drawn from the first letter of Peter: ‘Called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord’. The resources, available on both the Vatican and WCC websites, have been prepared by Christians in Latvia, once a religious and political battleground, but today a crossroads where Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists and Orthodox work and pray together.
Here in Rome, Pope Francis will lead Vespers with members of other Christian Churches next Monday in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, an important ecumenical celebration during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. To find out more about what’s on ecumenical agenda for the coming year, Philippa Hitchen spoke with Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Council for Christian Unity..
The Cardinal said that though the main ecumenical event for the Year of Mercy here in Rome will be Monday’s celebration of Vespers marking the end of the week of prayer for Christian unity, in some countries there will be common celebrations of mercy.
Regarding the forthcoming celebration between Catholics and Lutherans of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, spoke about recent publications from the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Lutheran Federation, including the document ‘From Conflict to Communion’ and the recent liturgical guidelines on how to commemorate this special anniversary together.
He noted that his Council and the WLF are planning a “liturgical encounter” , to take place in October in Lund, Sweden where the WLF was founded in 1947. He welcomed the fact that the WLF made it clear from the start that, together with the Catholic Church, they were inviting other Churches and communities to attend the event, adding that hopefully, the occasion will mark a “beautiful step” towards full union between Catholics and Lutherans.
Asked about how he would encourage Catholics who regard the Reformation as a historic period of conflict and division to celebrate this event, Cardinal Koch pointed to three main aspects of the commemoration: firstly, repentance for the divisions in the Church and for the many wars that ravaged Europe. Secondly, thanksgiving for the fifty years of dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, remembering that in this time we have discovered many things that we share in common. Thirdly, the cardinal said the focus is on hope, that we can come closer to full unity.
Regarding the Pope’s recent visit to the Lutheran church in Rome and the question of Eucharistic sharing which was raised by one of the parishioners there, the cardinal said Pope Francis cannot give permission for this development since he does not have the authority, but he did stress that an individual’s personal relationship with Christ is fundamental for the question. The cardinal said that following the Joint Declaration on justification, he proposed that a further common declaration should be made concerning “Church, Eucharist and ministry” and he is grateful that two countries (Finland and the USA) have already been working together on this.
Regarding the upcoming pan-Synod that is set to take place later in the spring, Cardinal Koch said he hoped the meeting will be a good opportunity for the Orthodox Church to show the world that how to put synodality into practise. It will also “hopefully be a beautiful opportunity for dialogue”, he added.
Finally the cardinal spoke of the upcoming meeting with representatives of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in Cairo, during the first week of February. This third phase of the dialogue will be focused on the Sacraments, especially Initiation, but, he noted, the question of Baptism is not an easy one since some Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Copts and Ethiopians, have a very different understanding of Baptism and commonly re-baptise those being received into their Churches. A common understanding of Baptism is the basis of ecumenical relations, the cardinal said, adding that he hoped the forthcoming meeting with produce a greater consensus on this important issue.