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Pope Francis’ Homily – Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

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Conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 25, 2015

At 5:30 this evening (Rome time) in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, Pope Francis presided at the celebration of Second Vespers for the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. This ceremony formally concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which had as its theme this year: “Give me some water to drink” (John 4:7), taken from John’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Many representatives of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities present in Rome took part in this ceremony. At the end of the Vespers and before the final blessings, Cardinal Kurth Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity greeted the Holy Father.

Here below is the Vatican translation of the Pope’s homily which was delivered in Italian.

On his way from Judea to Galilee, Jesus passes through Samaria. He has no problem dealing with Samaritans, who were considered by the Jews to be heretics, schismatics, separated. His attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.

Weary from his journey, Jesus does not hesitate to ask the Samaritan woman for something to drink.  His thirst, however, is much more than physical: it is also a thirst for encounter, a desire to enter into dialogue with that woman and to invite her to make a journey of interior conversion. Jesus is patient, respectful of the person before him, and gradually reveals himself to her. His example encourages us to seek a serene encounter with others. To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity.

The woman of Sychar asks Jesus about the place where God is truly worshiped. Jesus does not side with the mountain or the temple, but goes to the heart of the matter, breaking down every wall of division.  He speaks instead of the meaning of true worship: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts.

Gradually the Samaritan woman comes to realize that the one who has asked her for a drink is able to slake her own thirst. Jesus in effect tells her that he is the source of living water which can satisfy her thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:13-14). Our human existence is marked by boundless aspirations: we seek truth, we thirst for love, justice and freedom.  These desires can only be partially satisfied, for from the depths of our being we are prompted to seek “something more”, something capable of fully quenching our thirst. The response to these aspirations is given by God in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery. From the pierced side of Jesus there flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). He is the brimming fount of the water of the Holy Spirit, “the love of God poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5) on the day of our baptism. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have become one in Christ, sons in the Son, true worshipers of the Father.  This mystery of love is the deepest ground of the unity which binds all Christians and is much greater than their historical divisions. To the extent that we humbly advance towards the Lord, then, we also draw nearer to one another.

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Her encounter with Jesus made the Samaritan women a missionary.  Having received a greater and more important gift than mere water from a well, she leaves her jar behind (cf. Jn 4:28) and runs back to tell her towns people that she has met the Christ (cf. Jn 4:29).  Her encounter with Jesus restored meaning and joy to her life, and she felt the desire to share this with others. Today there are so many men and women around us who are weary and thirsting, and who ask us Christians to give them something to drink.  It is a request which we cannot evade.

In the call to be evangelizers, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations (cf.Evangelii Gaudium, 131). Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!

In this joyful conviction, I offer a cordial and fraternal greeting to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to His Grace David Moxon, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communions gathered here to celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. I am also pleased to greet the members of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, and I offer them my best wishes for the fruitfulness of the plenary session to be held in these coming days. I also greet the students from the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, and the young recipients of study grants from by the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with the Orthodox Churches, centred in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Samaritan3Also present today are men and women religious from various Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in an ecumenical meeting organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, in conjunction with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to mark the Year for Consecrated Life. Religious life, as prophetic sign of the world to come, is called to offer in our time a witness to that communion in Christ which transcends all differences and finds expression in concrete gestures of acceptance and dialogue. The pursuit of Christian unity cannot be the sole prerogative of individuals or religious communities particularly concerned with this issue.  A shared knowledge of the different traditions of consecrated life, and a fruitful exchange of experiences, can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life in the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

Dear brothers and sisters, today all of us who thirst for peace and fraternity trustingly implore from our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ the one Priest, and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle Paul and all the saints, the gift of full communion between all Christians, so that “the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 2) may shine forth as the sign and instrument of reconciliation for the whole world.

50 years after Vatican II observers see hopeful signs for ecumenism under Francis

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This article was written by Deborah Gyapong of Canadian Catholic News.  

OTTAWA (CCN)—In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, observers see hopeful signs for ecumenism and interfaith dialog under Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis uses language very frequently on how important it is to walk together with other Christians,” said Saint Paul University professor Catherine Clifford, noting theological dialogs are being complemented “with initiatives of common witness.”

“It’s an invitation to do everything we possibly can together, not to wait for all ‘i’s to be dotted and ‘t’s  to be crossed and all the texts approved but that we kind of live into the experience of mutual communion by beginning to act together today,” she said.

“A central image of the Christian life for Pope Francis is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, a Scripture scholar, CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic TV network and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office in a keynote address Jan. 17 to a Vancouver symposium entitled “Christian Unity—Have we answered the call?” marking the 50th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism.

“For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us,” he said. “It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another.”

“The work of deepening our knowledge of each other through praying together, working together in common witness created the kind of trust that will allow us to move forward in the future,” Clifford said

“While Francis’ gestures are new, and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not,” Rosica said. “The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.”

Rosica noted the ecumenical movement is one of “ongoing conversion and a search for reconciliation among all Christians. “Over the past fifty years, ecumenism and the ecumenical movement have become commonplace for most Christians,” he said. “While ecumenism hasn’t yet achieved full reunion, it’s still among the most visible, powerful, successful Christian movements of the late 20th century.”

“Separated Christians no longer consider one another as strangers, competitors or even enemies, but as brothers and sisters,” he said. “We have largely removed the former lack of understanding, misunderstanding, prejudice, and indifference; we pray together, together we give witness to our common faith; in many fields we work together.”

“We have experienced that ‘what unites us is much greater than what divides us,’” he said.  “Such a change was unthinkable at the turn of the twentieth century and those who wish to go back to those times seriously risk being forsaken not only by a good, warm, friendly spirit but also by the Holy Spirit.”

Clifford highlighted Pope Francis’ historic meeting in Jerusalem last May with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, 50 years after Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras pledged to work together towards unity.  In May, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch issued a joint declaration that affirmed the continued desire for ecclesial unity, the pursuit of peace through reconciliation and dialog and the promotion interfaith dialog.

The Pope met the Patriarch again in Istanbul when he visited Turkey in November. Clifford noted their joint statement spoke of “how important it is for churches to work in interfaith dialog, especially with the people of Islam, in light of the violence in the Middle East.”

“Both Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew are not only motivated by the cause of ecumenism but also by forming a united front against the persecution of Christianity in the Middle East where the number of Catholics and Orthodox have dwindled over the past couple decades,” said Rosica.

Challenges remain in Catholic Orthodox dialog largely because of tensions within Eastern Orthodoxy itself, especially between the patriarchies of Constantinople and Moscow, Clifford said. In 2016, a pan-Orthodox synod is planned and “the question of ecumenism is very high on the agenda of this meeting.”

“Pope Francis has also worked very conscientiously to be seen acting together in common witness with leaders of other faiths,” she said.  For example, “he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby launched an international effort to stem the tide of human trafficking.”

Rosica admitted recent decades have showed “signs of tiredness, disillusionment and stagnation” after the euphoria immediately following the Council. “Recent decisions and directions by our sister Churches in the areas of moral theology, ethics, life and death issues, ordained ministries, questions regarding the family, marriage, sexuality and human life are essential issues that must not be ignored out of fear of jeopardizing our ecumenical consensus,” the priest said. “In the business of authentic ecumenism, communication must be frank and robust, respectful and charitable.”

“Catholic participants are expected to hold fast to the Church’s teachings, presenting doctrines clearly and avoiding all forms of reductionism or facile agreement,” he said. “When we are in dialogue with other Christian churches, must treat each other as partners and presuppose that each partner desires unity, even when we speak about contentious or divisive issues.”

Clifford also noted Pope Francis’ historic meeting with evangelical leaders at a private lunch inside the Vatican that included leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), and prominent American televangelists.

Pope Francis already had a long experience from his pastoral ministry in Argentina of working closely with evangelical leaders, she said.

“Today one in four Christians is evangelical or Pentecostal Christian,” she said.  Though there has been official dialog with evangelicals and Pentecostals for many decades, “these relationships will take on more importance in coming years.”

There is work being done by the Lutheran Catholic International Commission to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, she said.  Resources are being prepared for local groups to look at the progress that has been made in 50 years of interchurch dialog she said.

“What we did discover through dialog is that we do not disagree on the central dividing issue of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation,” she said, noting the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Catholics and Lutherans.  “In 2005, the World Methodist Council signed onto that same agreement.”

“Many other western Christians can find themselves in that agreement,” she said. “It puts our discussions of other issues, such as the recognition of sacramental life, on a different footing because we do not disagree on the basic theology of grace.”

What’s attractive about Pope Francis to evangelicals is also very important for Catholics, Clifford said.

“He’s calling us to the central message of the gospel, to a personal encounter with Christ, the source of a any evangelizing or missionary activity of the Church,” she said.  “The whole project of The Joy of the Gospel is the call to Catholics to undertake a discernment and to reexamine every aspect of ecclesial life, to carry out a pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church.”

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“All the structures of the Church and even the way we express the mission of the gospel has to make this message clear,” she said. “God has come for us in Jesus Christ.  God’s forgiveness and mercy avail to everyone and should not exclude anyone.  This should be transparent in the structuring of the Church’s life and missionary activity.”

“It’s a powerful message and many other Christians recognize themselves in it,” she said.  “The primary message of the Decree on Ecumenism is that we come together by renewing the life of our churches and getting closer to Christ.”

“If we actually undertake what Pope Francis is inviting us to do we cannot help but become closer to other Christian churches, if we renew and reform the Church in this way,” she said.  “They also have a responsibility to do the same thing. All Christians need to reexamine our living out of the gospel.”

“What ecumenical dialog helps us to do is do that discerning together, each church has to examine its own inner life and undertake the renewal that’s required,” she said.  “It’s encouraging. In some ways, Pope Francis is inviting us to carry forward some of the central insights of the Second Vatican Council in its commitment to working for Christian unity.”

Vatican II prompted a new self-awareness that had the Church reexamining how the gospel is communicated to modern people, she said. “The structures we put in place 50 years ago, are they still serving us now?  If they are not we should take a look at them.”

Pope Francis is “carrying forward some of the central insights of the Council, and that has to do with understanding that the form of the Church and its proclamation will always need to be adapted,” she said. “He is calling us to focus on the central message, but the way we express it and incarnate it in the structures of the church is adequate for the people of today.

Pope Francis is also stressing the importance of interfaith dialog, Clifford said.  In June, Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas met in Rome for joint prayer and a tree planting ceremony in the Vatican gardens, she said.

Rosica cautioned against letting interfaith dialog make ecumenism seem “outmoded.”

“There is a difference but not a competition between the two dialogues, for ultimately to be effective, interreligious dialogue presupposes that Christians can speak one and the same language,” he said. “The necessity of interreligious dialogue makes ecumenical dialogue even more urgent.”

The need for mutual understanding among religions “should make the work of Christians coming together have a greater sense of urgency, so we as churches can dialog together with representatives of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and other religions,” Clifford said.

(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

(CNS photo/Andreas Solaro, pool via Reuters)

The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later part 1

 

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On January 17, 2015, the Archdiocese of Vancouver sponsored a Symposium on Christian Unity, titled Have We Answered the Call?, at St. Francis Xavier Church, in honour of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, gave the keynote address titled The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later. In part 1 of his address, Fr. Rosica delves into the background of Ecumenism and the Catholic Church, particularly in the context of St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. Read part 1 the full text of Fr. Rosica’s address below:

Part I
Introduction and Background

The ecumenical movement, born in the twentieth century is the means by which the churches which form the house “oikos” of God, seek to live and witness before all peoples the wonders God has worked among us, especially through the crucified and risen Christ and his life-giving Spirit. We cannot forget the historical background of that century, which began with a belief in progress and turned out to be one of the darkest and bloodiest centuries in the history of humankind, with two world wars, many local wars, civil wars and ethnic conflicts, two humanity-despising totalitarian systems, concentration camps and gulags, genocides, expulsions and waves of refugees. Never before had so many people violently lost their lives in one single century. But out of the utter despair of those years, a bright light shattered the darkness: the ecumenical movement. After centuries of Christian fragmentation, a counter movement quietly began as churches became painfully aware that such a situation contradicted Jesus Christ’s will, and was a sin and a scandal. The separation of the Churches – 1500 years ago with the Ancient Oriental Churches, 1000 years ago with the Orthodox Churches, and almost 500 years ago with reformed Christianity, with a tendency to still new divisions – had seriously prejudiced the credibility of the Christian message.

Nor can we forget that this new ecumenical awareness developed in connection with the missionary movement. The birth of the ecumenical movement finds its roots in the 1910 World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh. The division of the Churches was recognized as a serious obstacle to world mission. A second impulse came from the war experiences and the national-socialist terror. In the concentration camps, courageous Christians from different Churches discovered that in their resistance against a new pagan totalitarian reign of evil, they had much more in common than what divided them. Thus, the ecumenical movement emerged fully in the second half of the 20th century. The founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 in Amsterdam was an important milestone on the ecumenical way.

Ecumenism2John XXIII and Vatican II

Fifty-six years ago January 25, St. John XXIII announced an ecumenical council that would bring together the bishops of the Catholic Church as the Church’s most important deliberative body. In a series of meetings from 1962 to 1965 later to be known as the Second Vatican Council – the bishops of the world sought to update and renew the life of the Catholic Church. A second, related goal of the Council was “the restoration of unity among all Christians”. We must never forget that one of the two goals of the Council was Christian unity: ecumenism.

Having served early on in his career as Apostolic Visitor and later Delegate to Bulgaria where there were Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but few Roman Catholics, Angelo Roncalli, who would become John XXIII, understood diversity of religion and diversity of culture. In 1934 he was transferred to Greece and Turkey as Apostolic Nuncio to those predominantly Orthodox and Islamic nations. Because of his sincere humility and his desire to build relationships and mutual understanding, he won the respect and affection of many people, especially non-Catholics. He was on the cutting edge of what would become known among Catholics as the ecumenical movement. He learned the importance of dialogue and love of neighbour, and became convinced that these were the only authentic paths to Christian unity, world peace and mutual prosperity.

The “Good Pope” understood that as each church renews its fidelity to the gospel, it grows closer to the others. The presence of 169 “fraternal” observers from other churches and ecclesial communities at the Second Vatican Council was a sign of John XXIII’s commitment to Christian unity and to the inseparable link between the Council’s desire for Catholic renewal and for ecumenical engagement. With the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church formally joined the ecumenical movement. The participation of the Roman Catholic Church in this movement is irrevocable.

This past November 21 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio. The Council Fathers approved almost unanimously the Decree: 2,137 voted in favour, only 11 against. Such a final vote revealed the positive degree to which the Episcopal conscience had evolved and matured since the 78-year old former Patriarch of Venice, only three months Bishop of Rome and believed to be merely “a transitional pope” announced three years earlier an Ecumenical Council.

The Decree on Ecumenism received an overwhelming majority vote despite having previously been the object of many heated and considerable debates. In view of the strong language of previous centuries against schism and heresy, it is not surprising that the decree was hotly debated, with many unwilling to break radically from the traditional language. In the end, however, the decree showed much generosity. It accepts that Catholics must take their share of blame for the divisions among Christians and that the living cannot be blamed for the sins of their ancestors. Other Christians are spoken of as “brothers and sisters,” and the unity that already exists is emphasized. The decree recognizes however, that obstacles remain to full communion and it urges Catholics to do their best to overcome them. The opening paragraph of the Council’s Decree states:

 “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves … as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”

In doing research for this address, I discovered an interesting “Canadian” connection to the discussions that resulted in UR. One of the Fathers of Vatican II was then Canadian Archbishop George Flahiff, CSB, former Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) and Archbishop of Winnipeg.

Archbishop Flahiff attended every session of Vatican II and spoke only once to the full assembly of bishops gathered in Council. His intervention on October 2, 1964, addressed a draft document or schema, which led to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism that would be promulgated by Pope Paul VI a little over two months later on November 21, 1964.

Two points of Archbishop Flahiff’s speech stand out in particular, since they came to be included, almost verbatim, in the final draft of the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism. First, Flahiff lamented the many divisions between Christian ecclesial communities and polarization within the Catholic Church itself. Flahiff recognized these realities as a counter-sign to God’s kingdom. He told the assembled bishops at Vatican II that “schisms can remind the Church that she is not yet as holy as she should be and not yet perfectly obedient to her vocation to be catholic.” Second, on a more positive note, Flahiff highlighted the vital role of the Holy Spirit in ecumenical activities: “The Spirit of God himself brings forth the varied fruit he wishes and leads all Christians to greater fidelity to the will of God.”

We can certainly sense the impact of George Falhiff’s words in UR #4. On inter-Christian and intra-Catholic divisions, the decree states:

 “For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church’s image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is delayed… The divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her, in those of her sons and daughters who, though attached to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her.”

 The same paragraph of UR speaks in this way of the work of the Holy Spirit in fostering Christian unity:

“Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”

UR clearly marked the opening of a new way of doing ecumenism in the Catholic Church, entering officially into the wider ecumenical movement. The conciliar decree had three parts: Part 1 outlines the Catholic principles which are still very important for Catholics today. Part 2 addresses the practice of ecumenism, the dialogue of truth and the dialogue of love, with spiritual ecumenism as the basis or the soul of all ecumenical engagement. Part 3 examines the two main splits in the Church, between East and West in the 11th century and within the Western Church in the 16th century and the different ways of resolving these problems.

Ecumenism

The Decree on Ecumenism, like any other conciliar decree or statement, never tried to address all of our present concerns regarding Christian life or Christian teaching. The documents of Vatican II reflected on Church life preceding the Council, and presented us with a framework upon which the future could be built. We must never forget that the teachings of a particular Council do not automatically become part of the life of the universal Church merely because the hierarchy of the Church has officially promulgated such documents. In this way, the Decree on Ecumenism was never a handbook of ecumenical theology nor an encyclopedia of Christian divisions. It is, more than anything, a pastoral statement, a charter for a movement and not the dogmatic decree of a static position frozen in time.

The very soul of the ecumenical movement is an ongoing conversion and a search for reconciliation among all Christians. This search is primarily a spiritual task involving the seeking of truth as we try to follow more closely the One who is the Way the Truth and the Life.

Over the past fifty years, ecumenism and the ecumenical movement have become commonplace for most Christians. While ecumenism hasn’t yet achieved full reunion, it’s still among the most visible, powerful, successful Christian movements of the late 20th century. Church leaders who promote the re-establishment of unity among all Christians described their efforts as “ecumenical.” However activity for the promotion of unity between Christians – all of whom belong to one family of faith – is to be distinguished from interfaith activities, which aim to foster understanding between Christianity and the other religions.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has engaged in official dialogues at the international level with the Orthodox Churches of Byzantine Tradition, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Methodist Council, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, the Christian Church – Disciples of Christ, the Mennonites, the Pentecostal Churches, and the World Evangelical Alliance.

In Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue supports dialogues with the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Lutheran Church-Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Polish National Catholic Church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The Conference of Bishops participates as a full member of the Canadian Council of Churches.

These dialogues converge in the fact that they revolve around the concept of communio as their key concept. This convergence in the concept of communio corresponds to the vision of the Second Vatican Council. The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 stated that the communio-ecclesiology is the “central and basic idea of the Council documents”.

Today the ecumenical question can no longer be one directed only to theologians and officeholders of the different churches. The unity of Christians must be more effectively introduced to the entire people of God in a visible and tangible way. As long as Christians remain divided, ignorant of the need for unity so too will their proclamation go unnoticed or even not understood in the world today. In a world where unbelief is a rapidly growing phenomenon, Christians must continually ask themselves if they are truly working to make God’s purpose known on earth so that the world will recognize Jesus as the true Lord and Savior of the “oikoumene.”

CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

CNS photo/courtesy of Archbishop Loris Capovilla

 

Has Christ Been Divided?-Pope Francis’ Homily to end the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Has Christ been divided? (1 Cor 1:13). The urgent appeal which Saint Paul makes at the beginning of his First Letter to the Corinthians, and which has been proclaimed at this evening?s liturgy, was chosen by a group of our fellow Christians in Canada as the theme for our meditation during this year’s Week of Prayer.

The Apostle was grieved to learn that the Christians of Corinth had split into different factions. Some claimed: I belong to Paul; while others claimed: I belong to Apollos or I belong to Cephas, and others yet claimed: I belong to Christ (cf. v. 12). Paul could not even praise those who claimed to belong to Christ, since they were using the name of the one Saviour to set themselves apart from their other brothers and sisters within the community. In other words, the particular experience of each individual, or an attachment to certain significant persons in the community, had become a yardstick for judging the faith of others.

Amid this divisiveness, Paul appeals to the Christians of Corinth by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to be in agreement, so that divisions will not reign among them, but rather a perfect union of mind and purpose (cf. v. 10). The communion for which the Apostle pleads, however, cannot be the fruit of human strategies. Perfect union among brothers and sisters can only come from looking to the mind and heart of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5). This evening, as we gather here in prayer, may we realize that Christ, who cannot be divided, wants to draw us to himself, to the sentiments of his heart, to his complete and confident surrender into the hands of the Father, to his radical self-emptying for love of humanity. Christ alone can be the principle, the cause and the driving force behind our unity.

As we find ourselves in his presence, we realize all the more that we may not regard divisions in the Church as something natural, inevitable in any form of human association. Our divisions wound Christ’s body, they impair the witness which we are called to give to him before the world. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, appealing to the text of Saint Paul which we have reflected on, significantly states: Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communities present themselves to people as the true inheritance of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in outlook and go their different ways, as if Christ were divided. And the Council continues: Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the sacred cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1).

Christ, dear friends, cannot be divided! This conviction must sustain and encourage us to persevere with humility and trust on the way to the restoration of full visible unity among all believers in Christ. Tonight I think of the work of two great Popes: Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. In the course of their own lives, both came to realize the urgency of the cause of unity and, once elected to the See of Peter, they guided the entire Catholic flock decisively on the paths of ecumenism. Pope John blazed new trails which earlier would have been almost unthinkable. Pope John Paul held up ecumenical dialogue as an ordinary and indispensable aspect of the life of each Particular Church. With them, I think too of Pope Paul VI, another great promoter of dialogue; in these very days we are commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his historic embrace with the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.

The work of these, my predecessors, enabled ecumenical dialogue to become an essential dimension of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, so that today the Petrine ministry cannot be fully understood without this openness to dialogue with all believers in Christ. We can say also that the journey of ecumenism has allowed us to come to a deeper understanding of the ministry of the Successor of Peter, and we must be confident that it will continue to do so in the future. As we look with gratitude to the progress which the Lord has enabled us to make, and without ignoring the difficulties which ecumenical dialogue is presently experiencing, let us all pray that we may put on the mind of Christ and thus progress towards the unity which he wills.

In this climate of prayer for the gift of unity, I address a cordial and fraternal greeting to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and to His Grace David Moxon, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here this evening.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord Jesus, who has made us living members of his body, to keep us deeply united to him, to help us overcome our conflicts, our divisions and our self-seeking, and to be united to one another by one force, by the power of love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).

Amen.

(Image: CTV image grab/courtesy CNS: Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon pray before the tomb of St. Paul) 

Vatican Connections: Friday January 24, 2014

This week the Vatican was involved in two high level, international meetings: the meeting of the World Economic Forum and the Geneva II peace conference for Syria. The Vatican also caught international attention because of one guest coming to visit: French President Francois Hollande. While many speculated that perhaps Pope Francis would have words of advice for the French leader whose private life has been splashed across newspaper covers, nothing of that sort happened. Cindy Wooden at Catholic News Service has an overview of that meeting.

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Pope Francis met French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Jan. 24, their discussions about human dignity touched on several topics of tension between the French church and government, including the family and bioethics, the Vatican said.

The two spoke privately for 35 minutes with the assistance of an interpreter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, although before and after their private talk, the pope spoke to Hollande in French.

Media attention to the visit was high, particularly given recent revelations about Hollande’s affair with an actress and its impact on his official companion, to whom he is not married.

Security was tight around the Vatican for the visit after a rudimentary bomb exploded in Rome the night before near a French chapel, damaging several cars parked on the street and breaking the windows of some buildings.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, confirmed reports that an anonymous call to Rome police at 9:30 the morning of Hollande’s visit claimed that two bombs had been placed under the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square.

As is normal when a head of state is about to visit, a thorough security check of the area already had been performed, Father Benedettini said, but the colonnade was checked again. It was a false alarm.

Before the visit, Hollande’s press office issued a statement saying he planned to discuss with Pope Francis their shared concerns about the Middle East, Syria and the Geneva II peace talks and the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.

“The meeting will reaffirm his commitment to regular and trusting relationships between the government and the Catholic Church,” the press statement said.

The Catholic Church and Hollande’s government have experienced tensions since the president’s election in 2012, particularly concerning Hollande’s support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In May 2013, he signed a law allowing gays and lesbians to marry and to adopt children.

Current debates in France about legalizing surrogate motherhood and broadening access to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization also have drawn the criticism of French bishops.

Writing in the Catholic daily La Croix Jan. 23, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon said the proposed laws, which would be designed to make it easier for single people and gay couples to have children, would change what it means to be someone’s child. “For the first time, a generation of children will be born who have intentionally been deprived of one of their parents.”

The provisions would place the desire of an adult to have a child above the rights of a child to know who his or her parents are, the cardinal said. Placing the rights of the strongest over the rights of the weakest already occurs with “the law on abortion, which began as an exception to respond to situations of serious difficulty, but has transformed quickly in recent decades.”

A Vatican statement about Hollande’s meeting with Pope Francis and later with Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said that “in the context of the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person, several topics of current interest were discussed, including the family, bioethics, respect for religious communities and the safeguarding of places of worship.”

Poverty, development, migration and protecting the environment were also discussed, the Vatican said. And Hollande told reporters later that Pope Francis had said he was preparing a document on the environment.

As a member of his official delegation, Hollande brought with him Father Georges Vandenbeusch, a French missionary in Cameroon who had spent seven weeks as a hostage of the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram before being released on New Year’s Eve.

“I am very happy,” Pope Francis told Father Vandenbeusch before reaching out to give him a big hug.

For Pope Francis and Francois Hollande, the Francis connections were strong during the meeting Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales. As a gift for the pope, Hollande brought a copy of a 1921 illustrated edition of a life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Unlike his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande’s visit was not scheduled to include a visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Rome diocesan cathedral with which the French nation has a special tie. Since early in the 17th century, the French kings and several of nation’s presidents have been welcomed as the “honorary canon” of the basilica.

Tough questions for Christian unity

Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Do we really care about Christian unity? That was the challenging question posed by of one of my colleagues this morning, as he perceived a lack of interest in ecumenical issues in the Catholic community. His observation prompted a few questions of my own. Why might some Catholics feel that ecumenism isn’t a priority? And, more to the point, why is ecumenism needed today?

Pope Benedict addressed this topic today at Vespers. The liturgy, which took place in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, marked the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Vatican Radio summarized the Holy Father’s homily:

“In today’s society,” he said, “it seems that the Christian message is less and less a presence in personal and community life, and this is a challenge for all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities.” He went on to speak of unity as itself a privileged means and even almost a prerequisite for a more efficacious evangelization, both of those who have never heard the Good News, and of those who have lost touch with its healing and saving power. Pope Benedict said, “The scandal of division that undermines missionary activity was the impulse under which began the ecumenical movement that we know today.”

The Pope makes a compelling argument for the link between ecumenism and the New Evangelization. Anyone who cares about the renewal of our culture needs to take seriously the practical and spiritual consequences of a divided body of believers.

We encourage you to pray for Christian unity as you watch our re-broadcast of today’s liturgy. Vespers will air on S+L Television tonight at 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT and again at 12:30 am ET/9:30pm PT. To pray along, you can download the online booklet for the celebration, which contains the English translation of the Latin prayers.

Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Perspectives Daily – Thursday Nov. 25 – 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Tonight on Perspectives: we speak with Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton and find out about the 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Where Christian unity isn’t so ordinary


It’s easy to take ecumenism for granted in Canada, even during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Of course, the full expression of visible unity has not been achieved, and won’t likely occur within our lifetime. But we have grown so accustomed to respectful relations and cooperative efforts on social issues that our prayers for unity often lack a sense of urgency.

In other parts of the world, ecumenism must overcome rifts that have deepened over centuries. Such is the case in the Holy Land, where multiple denominations share custody of holy sites. On December 28, a dispute between Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox monks at the Church of the Nativity escalated into a brawl with broomsticks.

Fortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Since 2009, Christians in Jerusalem have been participating in prayer gatherings called the Extraordinary Prayer of all Churches for Reconciliation, Unity and Peace. The liturgies are endorsed by the Catholic Church, among other denominations. This Saturday, the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Anthony will host the seventh such event. S+L will air the Extraordinary Prayer live in French this Saturday morning starting at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT. The Franciscan Media Centre previews the event in the above video.

Perspectives Daily – Thursday, Jan. 19


Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Benedict tells US bishops that freedom of religion is the most ‘American’ of freedoms, and we continue to pray for Christian unity.

Celebrate Vespers with Pope Benedict on the Conversion of Saint Paul

We are all in need of conversion.

My colleague Pedro mentioned previously in his blog and the weekly edition of Perspectives on Christian Unity (and they talked about this on the show).

Hearing the phrase “we are all in need of conversion,” I recall the story of how Brother André begged those around him to pray for his conversion.  This request always baffled me.  Why would a saint pray for conversion?  I understand now it was his humility and self-awareness that motivated him to make the request.

We certainly are in need of conversion — of turning away from sin, and turning to God (after all, sin is turning our back to God).

On Tuesday, January 25th, we celebrate the feast of the conversion of St. Paul.  It’s a significant event to mark.  As Pope Benedict said on last year’s feast, it “became the beginning of [Paul’s] tireless missionary activity. In this he was to spend every ounce of his energy, proclaiming to all the peoples the Christ whom he had met personally.”

It also marks the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, or perhaps accurately the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, which began on Tuesday, January 18th.  (It’s interesting to note that Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate January 18th as the feast of the Confession of St. Peter, where Peter acknowledges Jesus at the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20)).

To mark the feast, and the conclusion of the week of prayer, Pope Benedict XVI will one again preside over Vespers at St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Last year, the Holy Father pointed to an encounter with Christ, like St. Paul’s dramatic conversion, as a key to Christian unity:

Each one of us is called to make his or her contribution towards the completion of those steps that lead to full communion among the disciples of Christ, without ever forgetting that this unity is above all a gift from God to be constantly invoked. In fact, the force that supports both unity and the mission flows from the fruitful encounter with the Risen One, just as was the case for St Paul on the road to Damascus, and for the Eleven and the other disciples gathered at Jerusalem.

Vespers on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul will be broadcast live on Salt + Light with English translation, Tuesday, January 25th at 11:30 ET, with an encore presentation at 8:00pm ET / 9:00pm PT.

CNS photo/Paul Haring:  Pope Benedict XVI waves after celebrating vespers closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on January 25th, 2010.

Matthew 16:13-20