"The Unity of Christians Is and Remains Prayer"
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
It is a great joy for me to meet with you on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, during which you are reflecting on the theme: "Toward a New Stage of Ecumenical Dialogue." In addressing my cordial greeting to each one of you, I also wish to thank in a particular way the president, Archbishop Kurt Koch, for the warm expressions with which he interpreted your sentiments.
Yesterday, as Archbishop Koch has recalled, you celebrated with a solemn commemorative ceremony, the 50th anniversary of the institution of your dicastery. On June 5, 1960, eve of the Second Vatican Council, which indicated the ecumenical commitment as central for the Church, Blessed John XXIII created the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, called later, in 1988, Pontifical Council. It was an act that constituted a milestone for the ecumenical path of the Catholic Church. In the course of 50 years, it has covered much territory. I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have given their service in the pontifical council, remembering first of all the presidents who succeeded one another: Cardinal Augustin Bea, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, and Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy; and I am especially pleased to thank Cardinal Walter Kasper, who led the dicastery, with competence and passion, over the last 11 years. I thank the members and consultors, officials and collaborators, those who have contributed to undertake theological dialogues and ecumenical meetings, and all those who have prayed to the Lord for the gift of visible unity between Christians. They are 50 years in which a truer knowledge and greater esteem have been acquired with the Churches and the ecclesial communities, overcoming prejudices cemented by history; there has been growth in the theological dialogue, but also in that of charity; several forms of collaboration have been developed, among which, in addition to those of the defense of life, the safeguarding of creation and the combating of injustice, important and fruitful has been that in the field of the ecumenical translations of sacred Scripture.
In these last years, then, the pontifical council has been committed, among other things, in a wide project, the so-called Harvest Project, to sketch an initial evaluation of the goals achieved in the theological dialogues with the principal ecclesial communities of Vatican II. It is a precious work that has made evident both the areas of convergence, as well as those in which it is necessary to continue and deepen reflection. Thanking God for the fruits already gathered, I encourage you to continue your efforts to promote a correct reception of the results attained and to make known with exactness the present state of theological research at the service of the path to unity. Today some think that this path, especially in the West, has lost its élan; noted now is the urgency to revive ecumenical interest and to give new incisiveness to the dialogues. Unheard of challenges, then, appear: the new anthropological and ethical interpretations, the ecumenical formation of the new generations, the further fragmentation of the ecumenical scene. It is essential to be aware of such changes and to identify the ways to proceed effectively in the light of the will of the Lord: "That they may all be one" (John 17:21).
Also with the Orthodox Churches and the Ancient Eastern Churches, with which "very close bonds" exist ("Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 15), the Catholic Church continues the dialogue with passion, seeking to deepen, in a serious and rigorous way, the common theological, liturgical and spiritual patrimony, and to address with serenity and commitment the elements that still divide us. With the Orthodox we have succeeded in touching a crucial point of encounter and reflection: the role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church. And the ecclesiological question is also at the center of the dialogue with the Ancient Eastern Churches: Despite many centuries of misunderstanding and separation, witnessed with joy is our having kept a precious common patrimony.
Dear friends, despite the presence of new problematic situations or difficult points for the dialogue, the aim of the ecumenical path remains unchanged, as does the firm commitment in pursuing it. It is not, however, a commitment according to political categories, so to speak, in which the ability to negotiate or the greater capacity to find compromises come into play, from which could be expected, as good mediators, that, after a certain time, one will arrive at agreements acceptable to all. Ecumenical action has a twofold movement. On one hand there is the convinced, passionate and tenacious search to find full unity in truth, to excogitate models of unity, to illumine oppositions and dark points in order to reach unity. And this in the necessary theological dialogue, but above all in prayer and in penance, in that spiritual ecumenism which constitutes the throbbing heart of the whole path: The unity of Christians is and remains prayer, it resides in prayer. On the other hand, another operative movement, which arises from the firm awareness that we do not know the hour of the realization of the unity among all the disciples of Christ and we cannot know it, because unity is not "made by us," God "makes" it: it comes from above, from the unity of the Father with the Son in the dialogue of love which is the Holy Spirit; it is a taking part in the divine unity. And this should not make our commitment diminish, rather, it should make us ever more attentive to receive the signs of the times of the Lord, knowing how to recognize with gratitude that which already unites us and working to consolidate it and make it grow. In the end, also in the ecumenical path, it is about leaving to God what is only his and of exploring, with seriousness, constancy and dedication, what is our task, being aware that to our commitment belongs the binomial of acting and suffering, of activity and patience, of effort and joy.
We confidently invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he will guide our way and that each one will feel with renewed vigor the appeal to work for the ecumenical cause. I encourage all of you to continue your work; it is a help that you render to the Bishop of Rome in fulfilling his mission at the service of unity. As a sign of affection and gratitude, I impart to you my heartfelt apostolic blessing.