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“Let us walk together toward the Lord…” How the Bishop of Rome is tracing new paths of unity for the Churches

Salt and Light Media

June 20, 2015
Orientale Lumen Conference 2015 DC
On Thursday, June 18, 2015, the date Laudato Si was released, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, addressed the Orientale Lumen XIX Conference in Washington, DC. Read the full text of his address below. 
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Orientale Lumen XIX Conference – Washington, DC - June 18, 2015
"The Bishop of Rome: Past, Present and Future"
Your Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters of the Orthodox Churches,
Dear Friends,
The Council’s Vision of Christian Unity
St. John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council for two specific purposes: aggiornamento – bringing the Church into the Modern World and presenting the enticing mystery of the Church to the Modern World; and second, for the cause of Christian Unity – for the whole oikumene. One of the main achievements of the Council in the mid-1960s was to find a theological logic to break down the walls between Christian churches, and to usher in a new era of dialogue and partnership that we now refer to as “ecumenism.”
Vatican II articulated a new theology of Church. While the fullness of the Church, according to Catholic doctrine, may exist only in Catholicism, there are nevertheless precious elements of it to be found outside that deserve our honor and respect. Interestingly enough, this theme emerged once again at the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome and evoked once again those great lively discussions and impassioned debates that surrounded and continue to flow from the expression “subsistit in” from Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium. Nevertheless, no one can deny the dynamic conversations that took place among us at the Synod as we sought to find a vocabulary and expression to name the new situations of our time and find the presence of God in them.
The ultimate goal of ecumenism is the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer that his disciples would be one so the world would believe. What we long for is full unity in faith and the sacraments. The most important result of the past half-century is not the wealth of doctrinal agreements that have been drawn up by resulting dialogue commissions, but rather the rediscovery of each other as baptized Christians, whichever denomination or Christian community we may belong to. All theological discussion must be firmly rooted in the real-life experience of individual believers.
We must be honest, however and realize that many of the great expectations raised by the Second Vatican Council half a century ago have not been fulfilled and the work of implementing its prophetic vision has only just begun. There is no doubt in my mind that Pope Francis has energized 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 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.
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. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. 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. 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. 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.
TR Gift Orientale Lumen Conference 2015
Four Biblical Reflections and Four Perspectives
I would like to refer to four daily homilies of the Bishop of Rome over the past two years that may very well be a hermeneutical key to understanding Pope Francis’ ecumenical and interreligious efforts. Two months after his election to the See of Peter, in his daily homily in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 13, 2013, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges and not of walls.” The Pope went on to say that this makes us think of the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.
“A Christian must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter - it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it.”
The Pope warned that, “Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.” The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”
On October 13, 2013 in the Chapel of the Domus, Pope Francis warned Christians against behaving as though the “key is in [their] pocket, and the door closed.” He reiterated that without prayer, one abandons the faith and descends into ideology and moralism. “Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge!” (Luke 11:52)
Francis continued: “Jesus speaks to us about the image of the lock; it is “the image of those Christians who have the key in their hand, but take it away, without opening the door. Worse still, they keep the door closed and don’t allow anyone to enter.In so doing, they themselves do not enter. …The lack of Christian witness does this, and when this Christian is a priest, a bishop or a Pope it is worse.”
“But how does it happen that a Christian falls into this attitude of keeping the key to the Church in his pocket, with the door closed?”
“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon people. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. …And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”
“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”
Then on October 24, 2014, Francis spoke about unity in diversity in his daily homily in the Domus Chapel. “Every Christian is called to work for the unity of the Church, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit who creates unity in diversity.” “Building the unity of the Church is the work of the Church and of every Christian throughout history".
Pope Francis noted that when the Apostle Peter speaks of the Church, he speaks of a temple made of living stones, that is us. The Pope warned that the opposite to this is "that other temple of pride, which was the Tower of Babel. The first temple "brings unity”, the second is the symbol of disunity, lack of understanding, the diversity of languages. Pope Francis then posed a question: How is "this temple built?" The Apostle Peter said "that we were living stones in this building". Saint Paul on the other hand "advises us not to be stones, to be weak bricks”. The advice of the Apostle to the Gentiles in building this unity is “weak advice, according to human thought".
"Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness appear useless… . The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple".
"The hope to which we have been called; the hope of journeying towards the Lord; the hope of living in a living Church, made of living stones, with the power of the Holy Spirit. Only in the ground plan of hope can we move forward in the unity of the Church. We have been called to a great hope. Let's go there! But with the strength that Jesus prayer’ for unity gives us; with docility to the Holy Spirit, who is capable of making living stones from bricks; and with the hope of finding the Lord who has called us, to encounter Him in the fullness of time”.
Last November 4, 2014, Pope Francis once again illustrated the qualities to be avoided and those to be embraced if we wish to be instruments of unity and reconciliation in the Church today. Francis based his homily on the parable recounted in the daily Gospel of the man who gave a great banquet to which he invited many. The Pope said that this parable makes us think, because “we all like being invited to dinners”. But there was something about this dinner that three guests did not like, and these guests are an example of many of us.
One person says that he has to go and examine his field, he needs to see it in order to feel “powerful, vanity, pride and he prefers this to sitting at table among others.” Another guest had just bought five oxen and thus is taken up with his business and doesn’t want to waste time with other people. The last guest excuses himself saying that he is married and doesn’t want to bring his bride to the dinner. He wanted to keep her affection all to himself: selfishness. Pope Francis noted: “In the end the invited guests prefer their own interests rather than sharing dinner together: They do not know what it means to celebrate”.
“It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. And there is more behind all of this, something far deeper: fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear Him”.
"Compel them, for here is the celebration. Gratuity. Compel that heart, that soul to believe in God's gratuity, that God’s gift is free, that salvation cannot be bought: it is a great gift, the love of God ... is the greatest gift! This is gratuity.”
“Today, the Church asks us not to be afraid of the gratuitousness of God".
In these four brief, daily homilies, I believe that we have four very distinct lenses or hermeneutical keys through which me may understand Pope Francis’ modus operandi in relating to other Christians and people of good will of other faith communities.
1) Paul does not say to the Athenians: “This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.” The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter - it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it in a person. His name is Jesus. Francis warns that, Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ. The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”
2) Faith that passes through a distiller becomes an ideology- because ideologies are rigid, always and because Christian ideology is rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness; this Christian ideology is a serious illness.
3) "Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness on the surface appear useless; yet generosity means being open to all, having a big heart. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this Temple.
4) It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. Yet there is something deeper underlying all of this: the fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God’s gratuity. He is so great that we fear Him.
Orientale Lumen Group 2015
Francis and Orthodox Christianity
With Pope Francis we are witnessing a growing cooperation among the recognized leaders from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The idea of Orthodox Christians being able to learn from the Pope of Rome appears foreign to many of us. The renewed Roman efforts of outreach to Orthodox Christians have not passed unnoticed. Orthodox Christians are learning from the unique witness of Pope Francis. He is in many ways a bishop who reflects the Christianity of the first millennium when the Church was undivided. Pope Francis also models a form of leadership that is badly needed in Orthodox Christianity today. Let me offer a few lessons that Francis is offering to the East.
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was present at the first moments of the Petrine Ministry of Francis in March 2013. From May 24-25, 2014 the Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope Francis welcomed each other in Jerusalem to observe the anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and the subsequent lifting of mutual anathemas. Following the historic visit to the Holy Land, Patriarch Bartholomew travelled to Rome last May 2014 and joined Pope Francis and the Presidents of Israel and Palestine in a very historic prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens.
In his landmark encyclical released today “Laudato Si’” On Care for our Common Home”, released this morning, three specific paragraphs refer to Patriarch Bartholomew:
United by the same concern
7. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”.
As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.
In presenting the encyclical at the large Press Conference in the New Synod Hall of the Vatican earlier this morning, Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, speaking on behalf of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholmew, devoted a large part of his intervention to the ecumenism in “Laudato si'”, and mentioned that in 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios published an encyclical addressed to all Christians and persons of good will warning of the seriousness of the ecological problem and its theological and spiritual implications, and in the same year he proposed the dedication of 1 September every year to prayer for the environment. This date, according to the Orthodox calendar, is the first day of the ecclesiastical year and now devoted to the environment. The Metropolitan proposed the adoption by all Christians of this day for prayer for the environment.
Metropolitan John said: “I believe that the significance of the papal Encyclical Laudato si' is not limited to the subject of ecology as such. I see in it an important ecumenical dimension in that it brings the divided Christians before a common task which they must face together. We live at a time when fundamental existential problems overwhelm our traditional divisions and relativise them almost to the point of extinction. Look, for example, at what is happening today in the Middle East: do those who persecute the Christians ask them to which Church or Confession they belong? Christian unity in such cases is de facto realised by persecution and blood – an ecumenism of martyrdom”.
He continued: “The threat posed to us by the ecological crisis similarly bypasses or transcends our traditional divisions. The danger facing our common home, the planet on which we live, is described in the Encyclical in a way leaving no doubt about the existential risk we are confronted with. This risk is common to all of us regardless of our ecclesiastical or confessional identities. Equally common must be our effort to prevent the catastrophic consequences of the present situation. Pope Francis' Encyclical is a call to unity – unity in prayer for the environment, in the same Gospel of Creation, in the conversion of our hearts and our lifestyles to respect and love everyone and everything given to us by God”.
Metropolitan John’s presence at a Vatican Press Conference presenting a papal encyclical was truly unprecedented and a great sign and portent of ecumenism and the deepening relationship that exists between our churches.
What is it about Francis’ exercise of the Petrine ministry that is so enticing to the Orthodox? And vice-versa! I would like to refer to three distinctive qualities emerging from the Papacy of Pope Francis. The Bishop of Rome is teaching us each day that authentic power is service. There is no place for the trappings of power, privilege and prestige in the exercise of Francis’ Petrine ministry. Francis shocked many on that first Holy Thursday night in 2013 when he visited a youth detention center in Rome and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including one who was an Orthodox Christian. If we do not learn this Christian rule and posture of servanthood, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message about true power.
Second, Francis has taught us about life on the peripheries of society. Pope Francis challenges Orthodox Christians with the following words: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.” A risk-taking Church that is not afraid to fail is much healthier than a Church that is focused on institutional security and closed in on itself. Such a lesson is not only meant for the Churches of the West.
Third, Francis has repeatedly taught us that evangelization, by its very nature a “noisy” business. Pope Francis provided this bold exhortation to young people in Rio de Janeiro: “Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. … I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves.”
Francis has written: “Christians of the East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world.”
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. In November 2014, Pope Francis was the fourth pontiff to visit Turkey after Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Paul VI in 1967. His visit came three days after Francis addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a difficult time for people of various religions in the Middle East and at a time that Turkey is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
Evangelicals and Pentecostals
Let us be very honest and admit that Anglicanism and Orthodoxy today represent a minority of non-Catholic Christians. According to a 2011 Pew Forum report, about half of the world’s Christians are Catholic, 12 percent are Orthodox, and 37 percent are “Protestants, broadly defined.” The same study reported that there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians in the world and that Pentecostal and charismatic Christians together make up about 27 percent of all Christians and more than 8 percent of the world’s total population.
There are roughly 285 million Evangelicals worldwide, which means that, together, Evangelicals and Pentecostals total nearly 400 million. Meanwhile, the number of “historic Protestants” (Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and Anglicans continues to shrink overall. Through his focusing on Evangelicals and Pentecostals rather than “historical” Protestant denominations, Pope Francis has taken a new approach to ecumenical efforts that has upset some of the major denominations and even those who claim to be seasoned, ecumenical experts! Several of my theologian colleagues and friends, and those immersed in formal ecumenical studies and work have commented to me over the past few months: “What on earth is the Pope doing with those “sects” or “fundamentalist new groups?” They might be missing some very important lessons that the Bishop of Rome is teaching us.
Francis and the World Evangelical Alliance
Pope Francis has approached ecumenism characterized through personal relationships specifically addressed to the world of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity and somewhat disconnected from the “official” efforts and initiatives of those who work through formal structures and agencies in the area of ecumenism. Recently Pope Francis addressed a delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance at the Vatican. Francis said: “Whenever we put ourselves entirely and lovingly at the service of the Gospel, we become ever more fruitful branches of that vine which is Christ, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). This truth is grounded in our Baptism, by which we share in the fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism is God’s priceless gift which we have in common (cf. Gal 3:27). Thanks to this gift, we no longer live a purely earthly existence; we now live in the power of the Spirit.
Francis has said that our divisions mar the beauty of the seamless robe of Christ, yet they do not completely destroy the profound unity brought about by grace in all the baptized (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 13). The effectiveness of the Christian message would no doubt be greater were Christians to overcome their divisions, and together celebrate the sacraments, spread the word of God, and bear witness to charity.”
This outreach to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is most certainly influenced by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s pastoral ministry in Latin America, and his now famous Aparecida document from the 2007 Latin American Bishops’ Meeting in Brazil. There was a strong wake-up call given to us last July 2014 when the Bishop of Rome went on a “private” visit to a Pentecostal church in Caserta, Italy. The event concluded with a historic first: an apology from the Pope for anything involvement Catholics may have had in the persecution of Pentecostals in Italy in the 1930s.
Francis spoke of that one sin present among Christians since apostolic times, and definitely not a divine trait: name-calling. On the path of Christian life, "when we stop and spend too much time looking at each other, we start a different journey, an ugly one," the pope said. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul criticizes early Christians who, bragging and promoting rivalry, started saying, "I belong to Paul" or "I belong to Apollos," rather than "I belong to Jesus."
Francis’ ecumenical strategy in all of these efforts is not sheep stealing. His motto is not “swim the Tiber” nor his mantra: “Rome sweet home.” Bishop Tony Palmer pointed this out: “Pope Francis pulled me up on more than one occasion when I used the expression ‘coming home to the Catholic Church.’ He said, ‘Don’t use this term.’ He told me, ‘No one is coming home. You are journeying towards us and we are journeying towards you and we will meet in the middle. We will meet on the road as we seek each other.’”
This thought is powerfully confirmed in Francis’ stunning exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicions or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face for “it is not just a matter of being informed but of reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”
Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts with Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders has inaugurated a new era of serious, ecumenical discussion but this has sounded several alarms in various ecumenical quarters! Through these messages and efforts, Francis has spoken simply, powerfully and beautifully about returning to lost unity, a desire to achieve a missing fullness, a disarming invitation to simply come together to witness to the beauty of the love of Christ.
Bishop John Michael Bishop - Orientale Lumen Conference
Efforts with the Charismatic Communities
Francis is an evangelical pope and the Church of the 21st century has a charismatic face. When Pope Francis met with members of the “Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship” in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, he touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the Pope said. “It does not necessarily mean doing everything together or thinking in the same way. Nor does it signify a loss of identity. Unity in diversity is actually the opposite: it involves the joyful recognition and acceptance of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each one and the placing of these gifts at the service of all members of the Church.” Francis reminded his audience that “the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical.”
“Catholic Fraternity, do not forget your origins, do not forget that the Charismatic Renewal is, by its very nature, ecumenical. Blessed Paul VI commented on this in the magnificent Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization which is highly relevant in our own day: “The power of evangelization will find itself considerably diminished if those who proclaim the Gospel are divided among themselves in all sorts of ways. Is this not perhaps one of the great sicknesses of evangelization today?”
“Remember: seek the unity which is the work of the Holy Spirit and do not be afraid of diversity. The breathing of Christians draws in the new air of the Holy Spirit and then exhales it upon the world: it is the prayer of praise and missionary outreach. Share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church. Spiritual ecumenism and the ecumenism of blood. The unity of the Body of Christ. Prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom who comes! One Bride only! (Rev 22:17).”
Francis’ approach to ecumenism has a very charismatic character, as he himself explains in this excerpt from a book recently published Italian Renewal in the Holy Spirit (RnS), entitled “Il Cardinale Bergoglio al Rinnovamento”: “I don’t believe in a definitive ecumenism, much less do I believe in the ecumenism that as its first step gets us to agree on a theological level. I think we must progress in unity, participating together in prayer and in the works of charity. And this I find in the Renewal. Now and then we get together with a few pastors and stop and pray together for about an hour. This has been made possible thanks to the Charismatic Renewal, both on the evangelical side and on the Catholic side.”
Pope Francis & Orientale Lumen Foundation
Pope Francis also addressed delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is “absolutely essential” in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ.
“Every Christian pilgrimage is not only a geographical journey, but also and above all an opportunity to take a path of inner renewal taking us ever closer to Christ our Lord,” said Pope Francis to the members of the Oriental Lumen Foundation in America, who are meeting in Rome in these days as part of an ecumenical pilgrimage.
“These dimensions are absolutely essential to proceed along the road that leads us to reconciliation and full communion among all believers in Christ. There is no true ecumenical dialogue without openness to inner renewal and the search for greater fidelity to Christ and to His will”.”
Relations with Judaism
Because of some wonderful relationships and friendships with rabbis in Buenos Aires, Francis has brought personal relationships into his pastoral ministry in Rome. I am convinced that if get the relationships right, everything else will follow. It’s all about relationships. Is this not the real legacy of Nostra Aetate? Pope Francis never met the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. But the more I see Francis in action, I cannot help but think that Heschel’s influence is hidden in Francis’ heart and mind. Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, one of Pope Francis’ closest friends is convinced of this fact. Rabbi Skorka accompanied Francis to the Holy Land in May, and in 2010 they co-authored a book, On Heaven and Earth.
God’s Continuous Search for Us
Pope Francis sounded very much like Rabbi Heschel in the interview with Jesuit journals in September 2013. “God is in every person’s life,” he said repeatedly. “You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.” Francis also shares Rabbi Heschel’s criticism of religion when it “speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.” The pope has repeatedly warned against clericalism, for example. “The risk that we must avoid is priests and bishops falling into clericalism, which is a distortion of religion,” he explained in his dialogue with Rabbi Skorka. “When a priest leads a diocese or a parish, he has to listen to his community, to make mature decisions and lead the community accordingly. In contrast, when the priest imposes himself, when in some way he says, ‘I am the boss here,’ he falls into clericalism.” Francis’ warning to newly appointed bishops in September 2013, that careerism is “a form of cancer,” echoed Rabbi Heschel’s remark in a now famous address to the American Medical Association years ago: “According to my own medical theory, more people die of success than of cancer.”
The Vocation and Mission of “Pontifex”
Building bridges is the work of evangelization, the work of going out to the whole world to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Building walls is what fearful, insecure people do to protect what they have and to keep others out. Pope Francis wants to build bridges that everyone can cross. In “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.
Dear Friends, 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 is a gift of the Spirit. 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? There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years. It is the mission of every single Christian, and most especially the vocation of those who work day and night, untiringly, patiently, and joyfully that “all may be one” so the world might believe in Jesus and the God and father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who sent His son to the world that God so loved. Let us build bridges together, and learn from the gentle, vivid, powerful and deeply human lessons that our Pontifex is teaching us.