Pope John XXIII and Vatican observers in 1962 Pope John XXIII and Vatican observers in 1962 

Bishop Farrell: Church unity concerns the whole people of God

Bishop Brian Farrell reflects on the changes that have marked the ecumenical movement in the 60 years since the foundation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

By Vatican News

“I think it’s very hard to overestimate” the significance of the creation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, says Bishop Brian Farrell.

Pope Saint John XXIII’s idea of establishing an ecumenical office in the Vatican, he says, “was certainly a novelty, a revolution at the time, and now it has become a reality. And we are constantly working for the restoration of the unity of Christ’s Church.”

Bishop Farrell currently serves as the secretary of the Pontifical Council. In an interview with Sister Bernadette Reis, the Bishop looks at some of the differences that characterise ecumenical dialogue today, sixty years after the foundation of the Pontifical Council.

From conflict to trust

“First of all, there is a sense of how much we actually have in common, because for centuries the churches rivalled each other by insisting on their differences”, he says. In the past sixty years, “ecumenical dialogue and constant contacts” have allowed Christians “to discover that we are much closer than the social images that we had made of each other.”

Another important difference is “the fact that, from conflict and rivalry, we have moved to a situation of trust and confidence and complete openness in our ecumenical dialogues”, he says.

This change, for which we must be truly grateful, “comes from recognising and engaging with our brothers and sisters in the other churches.”

A long journey

Asked about some of the ecumenical challenges facing the Church today, Bishop Farrell says that “the great challenge is, first of all, to make known the whole ecumenical goal of the Church.” Ecumenism can not be the concern only of “an elite group of experts”. Instead, “the unity of the Church is all about the whole people of God”.

Bishop Farrell says that the anniversary of the birth of the Pontifical Council dedicated to ecumenism “is a good opportunity for all of us to recognise what’s [been] done, and to examine what we need to do now.”

Living as if united

With Pope Francis, Bishop Farrell recognises the “healthy impatience” of those who feel that we can and should do more to work for Christian Unity. “One of the things that we need to do more is not to be content with the way we are”, he says, adding, “this is a very human temptation."

It is also important, says Bishop Farrell, “that we actually learn the lesson […] that the Lord has been teaching the ecumenical movement, and in particular through the ministry of Pope Francis”, namely, “that we need to live as if we have discovered unity”.

By living out the imperfect communion that we already share, “we can have the framework and the context to solve the very difficult questions that we still have to resolve”.

Bishop Farrell acknowledges that there is “still a great deal of study and work and prayer to do before we reach a full understanding of our unity.”

However, he says, “we can’t stop the present moment. We are all confronted by a world that shows us that if we don’t stand together, we won’t be able to serve.”

Click below to listen to the full interview of Bishop Brian Farrell with Sister Bernadette Reis:

Listen to Bishop Brian Farrell

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05 June 2020, 17:41