31 August 2012
Religious leaders hold oil lamps during the gathering for peace outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi last October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Not long ago, we received a letter from a reader who was concerned about all the attention CNEWA gives to ecumenism — that is, the efforts to increase understanding and promote unity with other churches and communities. Aside from being a part of CNEWA’s original mandate from the Holy Father, working toward the unity of Christians is woven intricately into the fabric of Catholic teaching. We asked Father Elias D. Mallon, CNEWA’s external affairs officer, to address that in this week’s “Take Five.”
- Vatican II (11 October 1962 — 8 December 1965) issued the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) on 21 November 1965. In the decree the council stated: “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principle concerns of the Second Vatican Council” (par. 1). This decree made ecumenism an integral part of the work of the Catholic Church.
- Regarding other churches, the council stated: “Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church...” and “the separated churches and communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the church” (par. 3)
- Thirty years later, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) of 25 May 1995, Blessed John Paul II declared: “Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian Unity, is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ [the Holy Father’s emphasis] which is added to the church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all she is and does...” (par. 20)
- The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is part of the Roman Curia and is responsible for maintaining relations with non-Catholic churches and communities and for sponsoring dialogues with them. Its current president is Cardinal Kurt Koch, former bishop of Basel, Switzerland.
- The Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (Geneva, Switzerland) engages in discussions with Orthodox and Protestant Christians who are members of the World Council of Churches. Among other things, the Joint Working Group helps prepare the theme and text for the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January). The Week of Prayer is observed by Christians all over the world. The observance of this week was started in 1908 by the Rev. Paul Wattson (d. 1940), founder of the Friars of the Atonement and influential in the founding of The Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Many dioceses throughout the world have an ecumenical officer who is responsible for local relations with other Christians. This includes local dialogues, prayer services and common community activities. In recent years, the ecumenical officer is also responsible for relations with non-Christians.
Tags: Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity Pope John Paul II