Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Only a united Church, the fruit of the ecumenical movement, will be able to respond to the challenges of an increasingly globalized world, to give answers which highlight the ethical foundation of social coexistence. It is therefore important that all the faithful feel involved in the ecumenical movement. Speaking to AsiaNews, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, highlights these points on his return from Istanbul, where he attended celebrations for the apostle Andrew, patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The cardinal does not hide the difficulties that exist in dialogue, but emphasizes that the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, as Sister Churches, which resumed after the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, can now depend on the solid foundations of love and friendship created between Rome and Constantinople. The cardinal also plans to visit other patriarchs and Orthodox churches.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity celebrates 50 years. What is the overall view of this period in dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox?
During these 50 years there has been a great effort in Ecumenism and the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, was the turning point of the great beginning of our journey together. Of course we still haven’t arrived at full unity and there is still much to do. But it is especially necessary today to deepen the dialogue of charity and truth. I think the dialogue of charity and friendship is the foundation of true ecumenism. Without friendship and love, together, dialogue between the two sister Churches cannot go on. And so I think the great friendship that characterized relations between Rome and Constantinople is now an anchor to look at the future with optimism.
On November 30, as head of the Vatican delegation you visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is the driving force of the ecumenical dialogue in the Orthodox world. This was a visit of courtesy or was it an attempt to redefine the importance of ecumenical dialogue after the meeting in Vienna?
First of all we attended the great liturgy for the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Apostle Andrew. It was a wonderful experience, my meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, whom I respect as a man of deep spirituality and noble kindness, was moving. This was followed by a meeting between the delegation of the Patriarchate and ours and we considered the future of the dialogue. In Vienna there were some difficulties, but I'm sure we can find a way to proceed in a positive way.
It is said that after Vienna dialogue will focus more on the theological rather than historical aspect.
About two years ago, we embarked on a mainly historical approach, but we realized that the Orthodox have a different way of dealing with history, than we Catholics. Since the questions are very difficult and there is need for expert historians, the Orthodox have proposed a text on the theological primacy and collegiality. Because collegiality is a major theme for the Orthodox, while for Catholics the major theme is the primacy. The great challenge for the future is how to see these two great realities together.
How does the Catholic world view the Orthodox world today?
I think that when we meet with the Orthodox, we feel at home. This is because the Orthodox have maintained the structures, the mentality and vision of the ancient Church. We Catholics are in danger of forgetting this reality. Although the break with these ancient Orthodox Churches took place more than a millennium ago, I feel at home when I visit them.
With the Protestants, even though we are separated by just 400 years, it is another reality.
What response should be given to those minority Catholics and Orthodox, who are opposed to any initiative in favor of ecumenical dialogue?
Even among Catholics there are those minorities who do not want ecumenism. But I think the first challenge in an increasingly globalized world, is that the Church must breathe, as John Paul II said, on both lungs, that of the East and the West. Therefore ecumenical dialogue is a source of enrichment for all.
In an increasingly globalized world, with a clear social economic and ethical crisis, how can a divided church provide answers?
It is important in today's world, a world of globalization, that Christianity be a global reality. Consequently, even in ecumenism, being able to speak with one language is a specific need of our time, in order to address all the socio-political and ethical challenges. Because if the Church does not have a single language, she will not have anything to say to our society. This is why the very presence of churches in society depends on the ecumenical movement. The foundation of our ecumenism is our faith, our beliefs and our baptism. In this sense, we first need to identify ourselves as Christians and then as Catholic or Orthodox, in the sense of belonging to the two churches - and not the Protestant denominations as they say – which have the apostolic tradition in common.
Photo: Nikos Manginas