“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” John 17:20-21
In this Year of Faith the Holy Father has returned to one of the main purposes for which the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was convoked, “To reconstitute that visible unity of all Christians which corresponds to the will of the divine Redeemer.” (Humanae Salutis, Pope John XXIII)
Pope Benedict reminded us this week that Christian “unity is a gift from God, and may come to us only from the Father through the Son, because the Church is His Church.” At the same time, the Holy Father emphasized that we must “dedicate all our forces” to bring about “visible unity between divided Christians.”
In an address to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Holy Father spoke of the opportunities and the challenges of ecumenism. “It is a good journey together towards this objective,” the Pope noted, but the challenge is that those on the journey “do not stop along the way, accepting the various contradictions between them as normal or the best they can hope to achieve.”
“We believers in Christ,” the Pope added, “are called upon to return to the essential, to the heart of our faith, to bear witness to the living God before the world,” continuing that “we must not forget what it is that unites us: our faith in God the Father and Creator revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, effusing the Spirit which revives and sanctifies.”
Addressing the importance of the theological dialogues and conversations that are taking place between the Catholic Church and other churches and ecclesial communities, Pope Benedict observed that “even when we cannot discern the possibility of re-establishing full communion in the near future, such dialogue facilitates our awareness” of both the obstacles and the richness of the experience of spiritual and theological reflection.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to whom the Pope’s remarks were addressed, is itself a fruit of the Second Vatican Council. One of Pope John’s first acts in preparing for the Council was to establish the Secretariat for Christian Unity, predecessor to the Pontifical Council, the first office of the Church to deal with relations with other churches and communities.
Calling for “patience, humility and abandonment to the will of the Lord,” the Holy Father concluded that both ecumenism and the new evangelization require the “sincere desire to follow Christ, and to fully adhere to the will of the Father.”
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