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The Church's future: ecumenism, evangelization


It is not easy to sum up our Conference. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would like to highlight three points that seem to me to be essential.

1. The choice made for ecumenism 40 years ago in Unitatis Redintegratio is irreversible and its validity is permanent, for today and for the future: 

- it conforms to the will of Jesus Christ;
- it conforms to the wishes of a universal Council, approved by Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II;
- it corresponds with the signs of the times, with evangelization and with the new evangelization to which today we are called;
- it has already borne much good fruit in the life of the Church, gifts of the Lord's Spirit for which we must thank him. These successes oblige us to forge ahead and to persevere in our ecumenical commitment.

Shifting lights and shadows in the ecumenical situation

2. In the past 40 years, the ecumenical situation has undergone great changes, with lights and shadows: 

2.1 The lights: 

We have reached an intermediate situation in which ecumenical receptivity and awareness in the Church have increased; so have expectations and sometimes also impatience. Pope John Paul II in particular, from the very first day of his long Pontificate, [had] championed the ecumenical commitment and promoted it with encouraging words and convincing actions.

By way of dialogue at the international as well as the regional and local levels, we have eliminated many misunderstandings and prejudices, overcome past differences, deepened and enriched joint gatherings in the faith and made many friendships.

In most situations in the Church, coexistence and ecumenical collaboration are part of daily ecclesial life in parishes and dioceses; ecumenism is an integral, normal part of the Church's life.

We are grateful above all for the ecumenical prayer groups and the spiritual network between monasteries, convents, communities and movements. Thanks be to God, spiritual ecumenism is growing. There is no ecumenical "ice age".

2.2 The shadows: 

Sometimes longstanding prejudices persist; often the memory of the past weighs heavily on the present and prevents a common future. A certain laziness, a narrowness and withdrawal into self on the part of Churches and Ecclesial Communities, is to be regretted.

On the other hand, ecumenism at times falls prey to superficial activism or is a matter of purely formal relations of courtesy, diplomacy or even bureaucracy.

The image of ecumenism, as the Church understands it, is sometimes distorted by misunderstandings and abuses; not only are these unhelpful but they also provoke contrary reactions and are counterproductive.

Only an ecumenism based on the teaching and discipline of the Church will have a future.

Today we are facing new challenges:  on the one hand, relativism and postmodern qualitative pluralism that no longer give importance to the question of truth, and on the other, the aggressive fundamentalism of sects, both old and new, with which in most cases it is impossible to establish a respectful dialogue.

Some ecclesial communities reveal a sort of doctrinal and especially an ethical liberalism that creates further dissent, either within these communities themselves or between them and the Catholic Church. In fact, it is these so-called progressive trends that threaten ecumenical progress. True ecumenism is ecumenism in charity and in truth.

Ignorance and indifference, major obstacles

3. The good results achieved so far together with the new challenges demand that the conception of the ecumenical movement's future be clarified in agreement.

A deeper, shared reflection on the foundations of ecumenism is becoming essential:  the common Baptism and baptismal faith; the profession of the Trinitarian God and of Jesus Christ as the one Saviour and Redeemer, together with the commitment to live in accordance with God's commandments and the spirit of the Gospels.

A vague family spirit does not suffice. We must encourage ecumenical formation in what unites and on what still divides us. Ignorance and indifference to one's own faith and the faith of others are obstacles that impede true ecumenism.

We must clarify the goal of ecumenical activities:  full communion in the faith, in the sacraments and in the apostolic ministry. This communion must not be confused with uniformity; it leaves room for a legitimate diversity in expression, spirituality, rite, theology, inculturation, etc.

In the meantime, ecumenism is making headway, thanks to the exchange of gifts which is not an impoverishment but constitutes an enrichment. Thus, the ecumenical movement helps reach the concrete and full realization of catholicity.

Ecumenism is not an aim in itself but is linked to evangelization. At the outset, the missionary and ecumenical movements are, as it were, twins and together represent the historical dynamism of the Church through which God, fulfilling his salvific design, gathers his people from among all the peoples of the earth. The ecumenical journey fits into this eschatological dynamic and is nourished by a hope that cannot disappoint.

In the ultimate analysis, the ecumenical process is an adventure of the Holy Spirit and a spiritual process. Spiritual ecumenism is thus the very heart of ecumenism:  that is, conversion and renewal, holiness and life in accordance with the Gospel, as well as private and community prayer.

We are therefore grateful to all who pray privately for unity, to common prayer groups and to the spiritual networks that unite monasteries, convents, communities and spiritual movements. We are determined to foster this spiritual ecumenism.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is planning to publish a Vademecum of ecumenical spirituality, which is to be put into practice in accordance with the various situations and circumstances of ecclesial life.

Situations in the Church today, and not only ecumenical situations, are very varied. A joint programme seems neither possible nor desirable or necessary.

Conferences such as this one that has gathered us together in these days, enable us to reinforce our common determination to travel the ecumenical path together and to deepen our common ecumenical knowledge and understanding; they also offer us a common ecumenical orientation for the future.

At the end of this meeting, let us part with the conviction that ecumenism together with evangelization are the way of the Church for the future. Both constitute the will of the Lord and the gift of the Spirit.

Let us thank the Holy Father who has strengthened us in this conviction and pointed out this path.