All the theological and ecclesiological differences that still divide Christians will be overcome only when we walk together, that is, when "we meet as brothers, pray together, and work together to proclaim the Gospel” and “serve the last.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – On Thursday, Pope Francis spoke to members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity gathered in Rome for their plenary assembly at the Vatican to discuss ‘Christian Unity: What model of full communion’.
The pontiff said that all theological and ecclesiological differences that still divide Christians will be overcome only by walking together, that is when "we meet as brothers, pray together, and work together in proclaiming the Gospel and serving the last."
This, the pontiff said, is what the Council of Churches already recommended as far back as 1952. Christians must "do all things together, except in those cases where deep difficulties over beliefs require us to act separately'."
First, unity, in the pope’s words, "is an essential requirement of our faith," and "is not the result of our human efforts or product of ecclesiastical diplomacy, but it is a gift from above." It is "a journey" that "requires patient expectations, tenacity, effort and commitment; it does not eliminate conflicts and nor clear away contrasts; on the contrary, it can sometimes result in new misunderstandings."
Secondly, unity "is not uniformity. The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions that have developed within the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition, are an asset, not a threat to the unity of the Church”.
Finally, unity “is not absorption”. Christian unity does not entail an ecumenism 'in reverse', whereby one has to deny one’s story of faith, nor does it tolerate proselytising, which indeed is a poison for the ecumenical journey.”
Francis noted that this year he had the opportunity of taking part in many significant ecumenical meetings, both in Rome and in his trips. "Each of these meetings has been for me a source of consolation because I could see that the desire for communion is alive and strong. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, aware of the responsibility entrusted to me by the Lord, I wish to reiterate that Christian unity is one of my main concerns, and I pray that it may be more and more shared by all of the baptised.
“Christian unity is an essential requirement of our faith; a requirement that flows from the depth of our being believers in Jesus Christ. We invoke unity because we invoke Christ. We want to live in unity because we want to follow Christ, to experience his love, enjoy the mystery of his being one with the Father, which is the divine essence. Jesus himself, in the Holy Spirit, associates us to his prayer: 'as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.[. . .], I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. [. . .], that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.’ (Gv17:21,23,26)”.
“According to Jesus’ priestly prayer, what we might wish is the unity of the Father’s love that is given to us in Jesus Christ, a love that also informs thoughts and doctrines. It is not enough to be in agreement in the understanding of the Gospel; what is necessary is for all believers be united to Christ and in Christ. It is our personal and communal conversion, our gradual conforming to him (cf. Rom 8:28), our always living more in him (cf. Gal 2:20) and this allow us to grow in communion among ourselves. This is the soul that is also supporting the study sessions and any other type of efforts to reach closer points of view."
"Bearing this in mind, it is possible to expose some false models of communion that do not really lead to unity but contradict it in its true essence."
"First of all, unity is not the result of our human efforts or product of ecclesiastical diplomacy, but is a gift from above. We humans are not able to achieve unity alone, nor can we decide on the forms and times. So what is our role? What must we do to promote unity among Christians? Our task is to accept this gift and make it visible to everyone. From this point of view, unity, before it is a goal, it is a journey with its own schedules and tempo, its delays and its accelerations, and also its pauses. Unity as a journey requires patient expectations, tenacity, effort and commitment; it does not eliminate conflicts and does not clear away contrasts; on the contrary, it can sometimes result in new misunderstandings.
“Unity can only be received by those who decide to set off on the journey towards a goal that today may seem rather distant. However, whoever travels this road is comforted by the continuous experience of a joyfully glimpsed albeit not yet fully reached communion whenever he or she puts aside conceit and recognises our need for God's love.
“What bond unites us Christians more than the experience of being sinners, which at the same time is the object of God’s infinite mercy as revealed to us by Jesus Christ? Likewise, the unity of love is already a reality when those whom God has chosen and called to form his people together announce the wonders He has done for them, especially by offering a testimony of life full of love for all people (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-10).
“For this reason, I like to repeat that unity is achieved by walking, remembering that when we walk together, we meet as brothers, pray together, and work together to proclaim the Gospel, and are already united to serve the last. All the theological and ecclesiological differences that still divide Christians will be overcome only in this journey, without us now knowing how and when, and this will happen according to what the Holy Spirit will suggest for the good of the Church. "
"Secondly, unity is not uniformity. The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions that have developed within the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the apostolic tradition, are an asset, not a threat to the unity of the Church. To try to suppress this diversity is going against the Holy Spirit, which acts to enrich the community of believers with a variety of gifts.
“Throughout history, there have been attempts of this kind, with consequences that sometimes make us suffer even today. If instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety, and diversity never become a conflict because He pushes us to experience variety in the communion of the Church. The ecumenical task is to respect legitimate diversity and overcome irreconcilable differences with the unity that God asks. The persistence of these differences must not paralyse us; instead, they must push us to seek together ways to address successfully these obstacles."
"Finally, unity is not absorption. Christian unity does not involve an ecumenism 'in reverse' whereby one has to deny one’s story of faith, nor does it tolerate proselytising, which indeed is a poison for the ecumenical journey. Before looking at what separates us, we must also see in an existential way the richness of what unites us, like the Holy Scripture and the great professions of faith of the early ecumenical councils. In doing so, we Christians can recognise ourselves as brothers and sisters who believe in the one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, engaged together to find ways to obey the Word of God who today wants us united.
“Ecumenism is true when we are able to shift the focus from ourselves, from our arguments and formulations, to the Word of God that demands to be heard, accepted and witnessed in the world. For this reason, the various Christian communities are called not to 'compete' but to cooperate.
“My recent visit to Lund reminded me of the importance of the ecumenical principle formulated by the Council of Churches in 1952, which urged Christians to "do all things together, except in those cases where deep difficulties over beliefs requires us to act separately'."