By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis has recalled the Church’s “irrevocable” commitment to the task of ecumenism on the 25th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Ut unum sint.
In a Letter addressed to Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Holy Father notes that Ut unum sint was published on the Solemnity of the Ascension, “under the sign of the Holy Spirit, the creator of unity in diversity”. It is in “that same liturgical and spiritual context”, the Pope says, that “we now commemorate it and propose it once more to the People of God”.
Faith and gratitude
Pope Francis writes, “On this anniversary, I give thanks to the Lord for the journey He has allowed us to travel as Christians in quest of full communion”. He says he shares the impatience of those who would like to see greater progress but insists that “we should not be lacking in faith and gratitude”. The Pope points to the growth in “mutual knowledge and esteem” among separated Christians and the ongoing “theological dialogue and dialogue in charity”, as well as various forms of ecumenical cooperation in daily life, as positive steps that have been taken since the Second Vatican Council “to heal the wounds of centuries and millennia”.
The Pope also expresses his gratitude for the work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and praises two recent initiatives of the Council: a new Ecumenical Vademecum [guidebook] for Bishops, set to be published in the fall; and the launch of the journal Acta Œcumenica, which is designed to renew the dicastery’s Information Service and “assist all who work in the service of unity”.
Unity the gift of the Holy Spirit
Echoing Ut unum sint, Pope Francis encourages us to “keep in mind the progress already made” towards Christian unity, but also “to scan the horizon, and ask with the Encyclical Ut unum sint, ‘Quanta est nobis via?’”; that is, “How much further do we have to travel?” The Pope reminds us, though, that Christian unity “is not chiefly the result of our activity, but a gift of the Holy Spirit”. That unity, he continues, will come “not as a miracle at the end” of the journey, but in the journey itself: “unity comes about in journeying; the Holy Spirit does this on the journey".
Pope Francis concludes his letter with the invitation to “ask the Spirit to guide our steps, and to enable everyone to hear the call to work for the cause of ecumenism with renewed vigour".