10/22/2009, 00.00
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Divisions among Christians is an obstacle to evangelisation, says Mgr Machado

by Nirmala Carvalho
The archbishop, who represents the Vatican at the Joint Working Group with the World Council of Churches, describes the birth and purpose of the ecumenical movement. National issues, like conversions by fundamentalists, are addressed by adhering to general principles.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Divisions among Christians are an obstacle to evangelisation, a problem common to all believers in Jesus, this according to Mgr Felix Machado, a former under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In this interview, he talks about what was done at  the meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) in Cordoba (Spain), from 12 to 19 October. The purpose of  JWG is to examine and promote cooperation between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (WCC), a body includes Protestant and Orthodox Churches.

“The World Council of Churches is a body with over 300 members, Protestant and Orthodox Churches. It was founded in 1948 and its headquarters are in Geneva,” but the “Catholic Church is not member,” said Mgr Machado, who is one of the Holy See delegates to the JWG.

“In every country, there are National Council of Churches (e.g. the National Council of Churches of India or NCCI). The Catholic Church is not a member, but ties are very friendly,” he added.

What are the ecumenical movement’s challenges and concerns, especially with regards to India, where many Protestant groups are accused of “conversions”?

The word Protestant should not be immediately applied to every ‘store front church’ or ‘every little group’ that calls itself Christian. These must be considered apart.

The World Council of Churches is a very credible and important body in the world. The ecumenical movement was born among Protestants, mainly because of missionary work. A mission congress was called by all the Protestant Churches for Edinburg in 1910. Out of that Congress, the idea of Ecumenism, the idea of the Unity of all Churches, emerged. It was an important event in the history of the Churches and next year it will be celebrated with many meetings and activities.

The Church, which is the body of Christ, cannot remain divided. This is a contradiction and goes against the wish of Christ himself who, before he was crucified, prayed “they may be one” and which the Servant of God John Paul II used to title his encyclical ‘Un Unum Sint’ (That they may be One).

The JWG has existed since the Second Vatican Council, bringing together Catholics and other Christians. It has 15 Catholic delegates and 15 from other Churches, and has met once a year for 40 years. Delegates are appointed for five years and I am one of the Vatican representatives. This is my second term.

When we meet, we discuss only what is taught by our respective Churches; we are not the ones who can change the teachings. We follow the teachings of the Church, and the Catholic Church teaches a lot about the Unity of Christians.

There is one Indian theologian, Dr George, from the Orthodox Malankara Church who is a delegate for the World Council of Churches.

The JWG is a high-level institution that meets, discusses and studies issues and then submits proposals to their respective parent body. Only the latter can accept or reject the proposals. For us Catholics, the Pope shows the way, but he is helped by institutions like the JWC.

Thus, we do not discuss national issues. These are left to subsidiary bodies, in India for example. We discuss general issues, especially those that pertain to what is taught by the each Church, and the principles of what is possible. At present, things are beginning to move.  

Matters are then applied at the national level. For instance, I raised the issue of conversions by fundamentalists and we formulated general principles in light of the teachings of the Church so that we can understand which path to take to solve our national problems in India.

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