By Christopher Wells
At a press conference on Friday morning, Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, presented an ecumenical “vademecum” – or guidebook – addressed to Bishops and intended to encourage and assist them in the work of ecumenism in their ministry.
Marking ecumenical milestones
The handbook, bearing the title, "The Bishop and Christian Unity: an Ecumenical Vademecum," was requested in 2016 by members of the Pontifical Council. It is being issued to mark the 25th anniversary of St John Paul II’s landmark encyclical on ecumenism, Ut unum sint, and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Council by Pope St John XXIII in 1960.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis expressed his satisfaction with the initiative in his letter to Cardinal Koch for the anniversary of Ut unum sint. In that letter, the Holy Father noted that “the service of unity is an essential aspect of the mission of every Bishop, who is the ‘visible source and foundation of unity’ in his own Particular Church.”
The new vademecum is based on John Paul’s teaching in Ut unum sint; Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio; and two documents produced by the Pontifical Council: the Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism (1993), and The Ecumenical Dimension in the Formation of those Engaged in Pastoral Work.
A document in two parts
The ecumenical vademecum has two main parts. The first part, said Cardinal Koch, “explains what is required of the Catholic Church in the fulfillment of its ecumenical mission,” while noting that “the search for unity is first of all a challenge to Catholics.” The first part of the document considers structures and personnel involved in ecumenism at the diocesan and national levels, as well as ecumenical formation and the use of mass media.
The second part of the document “examines four ways in which the Catholic Church can interact with other Christian communities”:
1. Spiritual ecumenism, which Unitatis redintegratio describes as the “soul of the ecumenical movement”;
2. The dialogue of charity, promoting a “culture of encounter” in daily contacts and cooperation with other Christians in virtue of our common baptism;
3. The dialogue of truth, referring to the search for the truth of God that Catholics undertake together with other Christians especially through theological dialogue;
4. And the dialogue of life, involving occasions of exchange and collaboration with other Christians, principally with regard to pastoral care; Christian witness to the world; and culture.
Presenting the document, Cardinal Koch points out that the vademecum not only lays out principles for ecumenism, but also offers “practical recommendations” – concrete suggestions for initiatives Bishops can undertake at the local and regional level.
The journey of Christian unity
Cardinal Koch concluded his presentation by recalling Pope Francis’s insight that Christian unity is a journey, and that “if we undertake the journey with Christ, He Himself will bring that unity about.” He expressed the hope that the Ecumenical Vademecum for Bishops “might be a help on the journey of Bishops and of the whole Catholic Church toward the full communion for which the Lord has prayed.”
You can read the new document on the website of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.