Vatican City, 21 November 2014 (VIS) – “This anniversary invites us to give thanks to God for the many fruits harvested in this last half-century. In particular, there has occurred what the Council recommended: the appreciation of how much there is that is good and true in the life of Christians in every community”. Thus Pope Francis greeted the participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the theme of which is “The aim of ecumenism: principles, opportunities and challenges, fifty years after Unitatis Redintegratio”.
The Pontiff remarked that fifty years ago on 21 November, the dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and the Decree on the Oriental Catholic Churches, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, were also published alongside Unitatis Redintegratio. These three profoundly connected texts offer the ecclesiological vision of Vatican Council II.
“Firstly, we can rejoice in the fact that the teaching of the Council has been widely received”, affirmed Francis. “In these years, on the basis of theological reasons rooted in the Scripture and in the tradition of the Church, the attitude of us as Catholics has changed in relation to Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities. Hostility and indifference, which had dug trenches that it seemed impossible to fill and had inflicted deep wounds, now belong to the past, and a healing process has begun that enables us to accept others as brothers or sisters, in the profound unity born of Baptism”.
This change in mentality has made it possible to “deepen our contact with many Churches and ecclesial Communities, and to develop new forms of collaboration. In this respect, the ecumenical traditions of the Sacred Scripture have been very important. Christians of different Churches and ecclesial Communities work together in the service of suffering and needy humanity, for the defence of human life and its inalienable dignity, for the protection of creation and against the injustice that afflict many people and populations”.
He continued, “while we give thanks, we must acknowledge that Christians remain divided, and that divergence in relation to new anthropological and ethical themes complicates our path towards unity. However, we cannot give in to discouragement and resignation, but must continue to trust in God who plants seeds of love and unity in the hearts of Christians, so they can face today's ecumenical challenges with renewed zeal; to cultivate spiritual ecumenism, to recognise the value of ecumenism of blood, and to walk the path of the Gospel together”.
Spiritual ecumenism culminates in the Week of Prayer for Christian unity, “a worldwide network of moments of prayer that, from parochial to international level, infuse the body of the Church with the oxygen of genuine ecumenical spirit; a network of gestures, that unite us in working together charitably; and it is also the sharing of prayer, thoughts and other texts that circulate on the web and may contribute to increasing mutual knowledge, respect and esteem”.
With regard to ecumenism of blood, Unitatis Redintegratio invites us to recognise, “in the brothers and sisters of other Churches and Christian Communities, the capacity, given by God, to bear witness to Christ unto the sacrifice of their lives. These testimonies have not been lacking in these fifty years, and continue to this day. ... Those who persecute Christ in his faithful do not differentiate in terms of confession: they persecute them simply because they are Christians”.
The Pope went on to remark that, in recent months, encountering many non-Catholic Christians, and reading their letters, he has noted the existence of a “widespread and strong desire to walk together, to pray, to know and love the Lord, to collaborate in service and in solidarity with the weak and suffering. I am convinced of this: on a common path, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and learning from each other, we can grow in the communion that already unites us”.
“Fifty years on from Unitatis Redintegratio, the quest for full Christian unity remains a priority for the Catholic Church, and it is therefore one of my main daily concerns. Unity is, first and foremost, a gift from God and it is the work of the Holy Spirit, but we are all called to collaborate, always and in every circumstance”.