Pope tells Poles he backs stronger inter-church relations
As part of the message coming out of his recent trip to Poland, Pope Benedict XVI has called on churches to build closer ties with one another through joint charitable initiatives, as well as by fostering inter-denominational marriages and families, writes Jonathan Luxmoore for Ecumenical News International.
"Despite all the differences that need to be overcome in inter-denominational dialogue, it is legitimate to attribute charitable engagement to the ecumenical community of Christ's disciples in search of full unity," the pope said at an inter-denominational prayer meeting at Warsaw's Lutheran Holy Trinity church.
The 79-year-old pontiff was speaking during his 25-28 May 2006 pilgrimage to Poland, his first outside Italy and his native Germany since taking office in April 2005.
He said he had made "restoration of full unity among Christians" a priority of his pontificate, and has said he would support ecumenical aspirations "steeped in prayer, mutual forgiveness and holiness of life."
Benedict, noted, however, that Christian churches would become "more credible before the world" if they met "contemporary charitable challenges" together, and promoted marriage and family life across denominational boundaries.
"In today's world, in which international and inter-cultural relations are multiplying, it happens increasingly often that young people from different traditions, religions or Christian denominations decide to start a family," Benedict XVI told the meeting.
Present were Polish Christian leaders from the Autocephallous Orthodox, Evangelical Augsburg, Reformed and Methodist churches, as well as Baptists, Polish-Catholics and Old Catholic Mariavites.
"Thanks to the spread of ecumenical dialogue on a larger scale, the decision can lead to the formation of a practical laboratory of unity. For this to happen, there is a need for mutual goodwill, understanding and maturity in faith of both parties, and also of the communities from which they come," said Benedict.
Minority churches have complained of intolerance in Poland, where Roman Catholics make up 96 per cent of the 38 million population, according to 2006 figures.
However, the country's Ecumenical Council (PRE), a grouping of seven denominations, agreed a mutual recognition of baptisms with Roman Catholics in 2000 and is completing an ecumenical Bible translation, while several member-churches also dialogue with the Catholics.
In his speech, Pope Benedict welcomed the drafting of an ecumenical document on marriage and family life, which would establish "principles acceptable to all for contracting inter-denominational marriages".
Speaking after the meeting, the ecumenical council's Orthodox president, Archbishop Jeremiasz Achimiuk, told Poland's Catholic information agency he believed Benedict XVI understood "the importance of ecumenical dialogue" and genuinely wished to broaden it.
The head of Poland's Lutheran church, Bishop Janusz Jagucki, who hosted the meeting, said he hoped Polish denominations would achieve a mutual recognition of the Eucharist.
The meeting was also attended by the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Cardinal Walter Kasper, the papal representative on Christian unity. It was the second meeting in the Holy Trinity church after one in 1991 between minority denominations and the pope's predecessor, John Paul II.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]