Vatican II Called Catholics to Active Role in Ecumenism

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Before praying the Angelus on Sunday, 21 January, the Holy Father continued his reflections on the documents of the Second Vatican Council with a meditation on the Decree<Unitatis redintegratio>. Here is a translation of his reflection, which was given in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. We are in the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" and I gladly take this opportunity to call the attention of all believers to the ecumenical commitment that marked the Second Vatican Council. This commitment was particularly evident in the Decree <Unitatis redintegratio>.

The Council rightly defined the division among Christians as a 'scandal' that 'openly contradicts the will of Christ' (<Unitatis redintegratio>, n. 1). In fact, through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus made his disciples one body, of which he himself is the Head. The Council Fathers felt the need to beg pardon of God and of their brethren for the sins committed against unity, and together they promised forgiveness for the sins of others (<Unitatis redintegratio>, n. 7). They urged Catholics 'to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism' (<Unitatis redintegratio>, n. 4), so that the imperfect communion which already exists between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities might soon be brought to its fullness. Above all, the Council asks us to cultivate an authentic "spiritual ecumenism", which consists in a continuous effort of prayer and conversion (<Unitatis redintegratio>, n. 8).

2. Another conciliar Decree, <Orientalium Ecclesiarum>, dedicated to the Eastern-rite Churches in full communion with the Apostolic See, is not in opposition to this spirit but, on the contrary, strengthens it. With this Decree, the Council wanted to honour 'the Eastern Churches' institutions... liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions and ordering of Christian life' (<Orientalium Ecclesiarum>, n. 1), declaring that they, like the Churches of the West, 'have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines' (<Orientalium Ecclesiarum>, n. 5). Their ancient tradition is a real treasure for the whole Church, as was apparent at the same Council in the significant contribution made precisely by Eastern Catholics. How can we forget the deep impression made by Maximos IV, Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, when he passionately invited the Council Fathers to 'keep a place for the Absent, that is, our Orthodox brethren, while waiting for full communion? With <Orientalium Ecclesiarum> it was made clear that the longed-for goal of full unity must not lead to a dull uniformity, but rather to the integration of all legitimate diversity in an organic communion, of which the Successor of Peter is called to be the servant and guarantor.

3. May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of unity, make us feel the force of the Lord's voice repeating to his disciples: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock' (Rv 3:20), as the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity appropriately recalls. The Lord Jesus is calling everyone to a courageous and profound review of life and urges us to deepen our ecumenical fervour and longing, as the third millennium swiftly approaches. May the Mother of Christ and of the Church obtain for all the baptized promptness and fidelity in responding to the Redeemer's ardent appeal.

After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father briefly greeted the English speaking pilgrims and visitors:

I extend a special greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims, in particular to the groups from St Charles Borromeo Parish and the Abbey of St Benedict in Westminster. May your visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul confirm you in faith and fidelity to the Church.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 January 1996, p. 1.

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