Pope Francis, leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, renewed the ecumenical commitment of the Church during the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Ut unum sint.”
The pontiff said Pope St. John Paul II’s desire when he wrote the encyclical on “Commitment to Ecumenism” is for the Church to be mindful of the teaching “that all may be one.”
In a letter to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Pope Francis said the encyclical confirmed the “irrevocable” commitment of the Church in promoting unity among Christian Churches.
Pope St. John Paul II published the letter 25 years ago during the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, “placing it under the sign of the Holy Spirit, the creator of unity in diversity.”
“In that same liturgical and spiritual context, we now commemorate it and proposed it once more to the People of God,” said Pope Francis.
In his letter, Pope Francis noted that the Second Vatican Council recognized that the movement for ecumenism had “arose by the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
He stressed that “only the Holy Spirit is able to kindle diversity, multiplicity and, at the same time, bring about unity.”
“The Council also taught that the Spirit, while distributing various kinds of spiritual gifts and ministries, is the principle of the Church’s unity,” said the pontiff.
Pope Francis said the encyclical “reaffirmed” that “legitimate diversity” does not contradict the Church’s unity, rather it “enhances her splendor and contributes greatly to the fulfillment of her mission.”
Healing the wounds
In the encyclical, Pope St. John Paul II said that apart from doctrinal differences needing to be resolved, “Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices.”
“Complacency, indifference, and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse,” the encyclical read.
Pope Francis said he shares “the healthy impatience” of the people who “think that we can and should do more.”
The pontiff, however, said Christians “should not be lacking in faith and gratitude” in healing “the wounds of centuries and millennia.”
“Mutual knowledge and esteem have grown and helped to overcome deeply rooted prejudices,” he said.
“Theological dialogue and the dialogue of charity have developed, as well as various forms of cooperation in the dialogue of life, at both the pastoral and cultural level,” added the pope.
In his letter, the pontiff also addressed leaders and followers of different Christian Churches and communities “who are our companions on this journey.”
“Like the disciples of Emmaus, may we experience the presence of the risen Christ who walks at our side and explains the Scriptures to us,” he said.
“May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, as we await the day when we will share the Eucharistic table together,” said the pontiff.
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the people who work in the dicastery for the promotion of Christian unity for keeping “the awareness of this irrevocable goal” to foster the spirit of ecumenism.
He praised its initiatives, including the “Ecumenical Vademecum for Bishops” that will be released later this year and the launch of the Acta Œcumenica journal.
The pontiff said unity is certainly “a gift of the Holy Spirit” and “not chiefly the result of our activity.”
He encouraged the public to ask the Holy Spirit “to guide our steps and to enable everyone to hear the call to work for the cause of ecumenism with renewed vigor.”
“May the Spirit inspire new prophetic gestures and strengthen fraternal charity among all Christ’s disciples,” the pontiff said.