May the Word of God 'inflame our hearts with hope on the
path to unity'
late afternoon of Friday, 18 April , the Holy father was driven
from New York's Park East Synagogue to St Joseph's Church for an
Ecumenical Prayer Service and Meeting. The present church was built in
1895 due to the expansion by a growing congregation.
Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York
and in charge of ecumenism, greeted the Pope, who prayed with and then
spoke to 250 Representatives of about 10 different Christian
evening, the Holy Father dined with the U.S. Cardinals, the heads of the
USCCB and his entourage at the residence of the U.N. Permanent Observer
of the Holy See.
the Address the Pope delivered at the Ecumenical Meeting.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My heart abounds with gratitude to Almighty God
"the Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph
for this blessed opportunity to gather with you this evening in prayer.
I thank Bishop Dennis Sullivan for his cordial welcome, and I warmly
greet all those in attendance representing Christian communities
throughout the United States. May the peace of our Lord and Savior be
with you all!
Through you, I express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable work
of all those engaged in ecumenism: the National Council of Churches,
Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for
Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others. The contribution
of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt
throughout the world. I encourage all of you to persevere, always
relying on the grace of the risen Christ whom we strive to serve by
bringing about "the obedience of faith for the sake of his name" (Rom
We have just listened to the scriptural passage in which Paul
"prisoner for the Lord"
delivers his ardent appeal to the members of the Christian community at
Ephesus. "I beg you," he writes, "to lead a life worthy of the calling
to which you have been called … eager to maintain the unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3). Then, after his impassioned
litany of unity, Paul reminds his hearers that Jesus, having ascended
into heaven, has bestowed upon men and women all the gifts necessary for
building up the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:11-13).
Paul's exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words instill
in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our quest
for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness to the
"one heart and mind" (Acts 4:32), which has always been the
distinguishing trait of Christian koinonia (cf. Acts 2:42), and the
force drawing others to join the community of believers so that they too
might come to share in the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8; cf.
Acts 2:47; 5:14).
Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one hand,
there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and interdependency
between peoples even when
geographically and culturally speaking
they are far apart. This new situation offers the potential for
enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the
well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the rapid
changes occurring in our world also present some disturbing signs of
fragmentation and a retreat into individualism. The expanding use of
electronic communications has in some cases paradoxically resulted in
greater isolation. Many people
including the young
are seeking therefore more authentic forms of community. Also of grave
concern is the spread of a secularist ideology that undermines or even
rejects transcendent truth. The very possibility of divine revelation,
and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by
cultural trends widely present in academia, the mass media and public
debate. For these reasons, a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent
as ever. Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope
that they hold (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
Avoid relativistic doctrine
Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering
of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel
message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are
sometimes changed within communities by so-called "prophetic actions"
that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of
Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to
act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the
idea of "local options". Somewhere in this process the need for
communion with the Church in every age
is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and
needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf.
Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity of
the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the Trinitarian God. In
John's Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his
disciples might be one, "just as you are in me and I am in you" (Jn
17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early
Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective
of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn,
suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound
integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11). Throughout
the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly called to
give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34) and
Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42). The core of their argument was always
the historical fact of Jesus's bodily resurrection from the tomb (Acts
2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The ultimate effectiveness of
their preaching did not depend on "lofty words" or "human wisdom" (1 Cor
2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the
authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus
of Paul's preaching and that of the early Church was none other than
Jesus Christ, and "him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had
to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in
which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the
foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9;
Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).
My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal
dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been
attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to
that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone
is "objective", relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of
individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application
through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the
betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the
"knowable" is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion
restricted to the shifting realm of "personal experience".
For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the
notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the
presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her
own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her
individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of
communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the
importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.
Hold fast to sound teaching
Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to
assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate
rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing
testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be
based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which
indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental
life of Christians today.
Only by "holding fast" to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29)
will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an
evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to
the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message
which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians,
we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the "reasons for
our hope", so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be
opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and
granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is
our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery
of his Son's passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is
indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and
"will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" (Nicene
May the word of God we have heard this evening inflame our hearts with
hope on the path to unity (cf. Lk 24:32). May this prayer service
exemplify the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement (cf.
Unitatis Redintegratio, 8); for without it, ecumenical structures,
institutions and programs would be deprived of their heart and soul. Let
us give thanks to Almighty God for the progress that has been made
through the work of his Spirit, as we acknowledge with gratitude the
personal sacrifices made by so many present and by those who have gone
By following in their footsteps, and by placing our trust in God alone,
I am confident that
to borrow the words of Father Paul Wattson
we will achieve the "oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness of
love" that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the one
sent by the Father for the salvation of all.
I thank you all.