Cardinal Koch: Close ties support the path of ecumenism

Cardinal Kurt Koch speaks about the challenges and progress made along the Church’s ecumenical journey, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of what is now the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

By Vatican News

“Two events of great importance for the cause of Christian unity are currently being commemorated,” said the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch

He made the declaration on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of “Ut unum sint” and the 60th anniversary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

On 5 June 1960, Pope Saint John XXIII established the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which later became the Pontifical Council in 1988. 

On 25 May 1995, Pope Saint John Paul II issued “Ut unum sint”, his encyclical on ecumenical commitment, describing it as “the irreversible path” of the Catholic Church.

In an interview with Vatican News’s Massimiliano Menichetti, Cardinal Koch shared his reflections on the Church’s journey along the path of ecumenism.

Ecumenical context

Cardinal Koch said that, since 1960, the Church has been able to produce much fruit from the many dialogues and meetings organized as part of the ecumenical movement. However, he noted, the ultimate objective of unity has not yet been achieved because “there is agreement on the need for unity but not on what form it should take.”

Nevertheless, “unity and multiplicity are not opposed even in ecumenism”, as each church can make its specific contribution to the restoration of unity. The ecumenical process is an “exchange of gifts.”

For example, we can learn about the centrality of the Word of God in the life of the Church from ecclesial communities born out of the Reformation. The Orthodox Church, he said, can teach us about synodality and the collegiality of Bishops, while the Catholic Church can offer its emphasis on the universality of the Church to the ecumenical movement.

Steps towards ecumenism

Cardinal Koch highlighted three important points in the journey towards ecumenism. 

The first, he said, is the dialogue of charity, which consists in maintaining friendly relations between the different churches, and which is helpful in overcoming prejudices of the past.

The second – the dialogue of truth – is the “theological analysis of controversial questions” that have led to division throughout history. 

The third – spiritual ecumenism – is the “profound and concordant adherence to the priestly prayer of Jesus that ‘all may be one.’”

John Paul II holds interreligious prayer service in Assisi
John Paul II holds interreligious prayer service in Assisi

25th anniversary of “Ut unum sint”

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s Ut unum sint, Cardinal Koch remarked its importance, given that it was the first encyclical on ecumenism written by a Pope.

The Cardinal recalled that Saint John Paul II stressed the commitment of the Catholic Church to the ecumenical path in the encyclical. Saint John Paul II, he said, also invited all members of the Church to engage in a “patient, fraternal dialogue” on the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, with the aim of finding a form of exercise of the primacy which does not renounce what it essential to its mission but “opens itself to a new situation.” This, according to Cardinal Koch, “is a very promising initiative.”

The Popes and ecumenism

Cardinal Koch noted that all the post-Vatican II Popes have shown openness to and continuity on the ecumenical path.

He said that Pope Saint John XXIII stressed that the restoration of Christian unity was fundamental to the renewal of the Church. Pope Saint Paul VI contributed to the adoption of “Unitatis Redintegratio”, the decree of Ecumenism. Saint John Paul II was convinced that the third millennium would have to face the great task of restoring lost unity. Pope Benedict XVI considered ecumenism as a “matter of faith” and therefore a primary duty of the successor of Peter. 

For Pope Francis, continued the Cardinal, “it is fundamental that the various ecclesial communities walk together on the part of unity, because unity grows as we journey together.”

John Paul II with Patriarch Dimitrios I
John Paul II with Patriarch Dimitrios I

Ministry of Bishops

Cardinal Koch highlighted that the ministry entrusted to Bishops is important, as it is “a service of unity” in each diocese between the local and the universal Church. It also consists in accompanying all members of the Church, including the non-Catholic baptized.

To mark the double anniversary, the Pontifical Council is publishing a Vademecum (a reference manual) intended to help Bishops better understand and translate their ecumenical responsibility.

The Pontifical Council is also publishing “Acta Œcumenica”, a review which will provide the latest information on the ecumenical commitment of Pope Francis and the activities of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It will also serve as a resource for ecumenical formation.

Interreligious encounter in Assisi
Interreligious encounter in Assisi


With the precautionary measures put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Cardinal Koch explained that it has been difficult continuing the work of ecumenism. He pointed out that ecumenism relies on “direct, personal encounters” which have not been possible due to travel restrictions.

However, the difficult situation, noted Cardinal Koch, “contributes to bringing Christian churches together as all of them are in the same boat.” 

He remarked that this was evident when Pope Francis invited everyone to join him in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer on 25 March to pray for an end to the pandemic. The letters he sent to the heads of various Christian churches were received warmly and many expressed their gratitude for the Pope’s initiative.

05 June 2020, 07:00