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Pope: A school on ecumenism and reform

(Vatican Radio) The ecumenical journey is an issue of “prime importance” for Pope Benedict XVI as is the need for reform in continuity and the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, the great ecumenical gathering which this year turns 50. Not by chance then, that Pope Benedict has decided to dedicated this years "Ratzinger Schülerkreis", or Ratzinger Summer School to these very themes. Emer McCarthy reports Listen: RealAudioMP3

This “Ratzinger Summer School” first began meeting over 30 years ago, when then Professor Joseph Ratzinger left the University of Regensburg to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since then each year he has gathered together his former theology students and invited expert theologians to take part in the 3 day, closed-door seminars, on topics as varied as new evangelization and evolution.

On Friday, the group will begin discussions on the relations between Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans, with reference to the book entitled "Harvesting the fruits", published in 2009 by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President-emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Taking part in the school, held at the Foccolari movement’s Mariopolis centre in Catselgandolfo, is Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn. He spoke to Vatican Radio’s Gudrun Sailer about the theme and participants at this years Summer school :

“There will be the Lutheran Bishop Emeritus Ulrich Wilkens, a famous exegete, who will discuss the development of ecumenism between Catholics and Lutherans. The theme of the Anglicans will be addressed by Bishop Charles Morerod, the new bishop of Geneva, Lausanne and Fribourg, who is a specialist on this topic, Cardinal Koch, President of the Council for Christian Unity will also be present... The fact that the Holy Father has chosen this theme for the meeting this year is a sign that the ecumenical question is of primary importance for him. I think this is already a first essential concept, within the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, it is a strong sign that the Holy Father insists on the importance of these meetings between separated Christians.

In five years time, there will be celebrations to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Will this be a backdrop to your discussions in anyway?

“ Inevitably I think that it will be on the horizon from the Lutheran and Anglican viewpoint, because it is a consequence of the Reformation. With the Holy Father, we expect a dialogue in truth and charity: In the truth that does not conceal the drama of division among Christians in Europe and, as a consequence, all over the world, but also the great issue of what is the reform of the Church, a theme of utmost importance to the Holy Father. We only have to think of all that he has said and taught about reform in continuity, as a model of Catholic reform. Of course, as part of the jubilee of the Reformation there will be a lot of talk about what constitutes real reform, which we are in need of, even today”.

What form do the discussions held within this "circle" take?

It is an academic circle, and this means that what counts are the arguments. Of course there is the question of friendships that have been built up after so many years, we have met for over 30 years, every year, and now we are almost at the point of retirement! The Holy Father is the youngest always has been, at least that has been my experience over the years. The Pope first and foremost is a man of reflection, what matters is the subject and the search for truth. So, if we could not discuss matters openly, we would not be a circle of students with their professor! I think that this climate of searching for the truth - the historical, and philosophical and theological truth - has remained unchanged, but there is also a hint of friendship. What strikes us is how the Holy Father always knows his pupils, he always asks about their family, children, and when there is suffering in a family he knows about it, he cares deeply ... This very human aspect - paternal, fraternal - is very and visibly present. I think that this is partly one of the reasons why this "circle" has been kept on going, from 1977 until now ...

At the beginning of the gathering, the Holy Father usually gives a brief summary of what has happened in the Church and the Vatican in the months since your last meeting. What arguments are you personally hoping to hear about this time?

“It has always been a very important part of the meeting, and it was 30 years ago ... Before he would talk about his experience at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and we would all eagerly await this panoramic tour and take notes ... This year, what will the Holy Father focus on? We only have to think of the big issues over the past year ... Its really enlightening to see not so much which issue the Holy Father focuses on, rather, how he focuses on it: The light of wisdom and insight that he reveals as he speaks of the great events of the past year ...