Ecumenism helps Catholics move beyond a 'theology of exclusion'

By agency reporter
6 Jun 2010

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) has played a significant role in helping bishops educated in a dated “theology of exclusion” to move towards a genuine “ecumenical commitment”. This was one of the remarks made by a leading Vatican figure at a press conference held at an international conference on world Christianity.

Yesterday (5 June 2010), the 50th anniversary of the formation of what is now the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), Bishop Brain Farrell, who has served as its secretary for the last eight years, spoke at a press conference alongside the Rev Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

They addressed the topic “Christian unity today” in a press conference at the Edinburgh 2010 Conference. The gathering commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the landmark 1910 World Mission Conference which took place in the same city. Some 300 delegates from over 60 countries and virtually all Christian traditions are attending the event.

Referring to the PCPCU 50th anniversary, Farrell explained that the body that was its predecessor was created by Pope John XXIII to facilitate the participation of observers from other Christian bodies, representatives of the so-called “separated brethren”, in the life of Second Vatican Council.

Farrell emphasised that documents produced during the Second Vatican Council “recognised the already existing ecumenical movement as a gift of the Holy Spirit”.

Geoff Tunnicliffe, the WEA’s international director, observed that individuals tend to look at history “through their own prisms”. For example, he said, members of the evangelical movement look back to the Edinburgh conference of 1910 and see a meeting that was all about mission and led to new approaches towards world evangelisation. Others see Edinburgh 1910 as the birth of the modern ecumenical movement and trace its outcomes primarily through councils encouraging the visible unity of the churches.

“This is a difference,” he said, “but it is understandable.” Several observances of this centennial have been organised with differing emphases, in Tokyo, Edinburgh, Capetown and elsewhere. But while tensions between Christian streams have led to reluctance in some circles to use the term “ecumenical”, it is now possible for diverse groups to come together as joint stakeholders in an event like Edinburgh 2010.

Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC, argued that the 1910 conference “brought a new dynamic into all of Christianity and raised the question of unity in evangelism”. He continued, “We are here to remind ourselves that we should not divide our calling, but we should share our calling.”

Tveit insisted that it would be a mistake to assign one group of churches the task of evangelism, and another the task of seeking social justice and peace. Rather than accepting such a division of labour, “we must respond to our common calling together. The world needs the gospel. The world also has the need for justice and peace.”

For this reason, Tveit said, the WCC tries to offer “a wide space, a meeting-place for a variety of traditions but also a space for the powerless, for those who have trouble making themselves heard in the world.”

“Don’t expect this conference to solve all the questions on the table,” Farrell advised. “But if we are on a journey, we need to stop from time to time, check our progress and our direction, refresh ourselves for the way ahead.”

Edinburgh 1910, Edinburgh 2010 and other events along the way “are stations on our common journey,” remarked Tveit. “If the outcome of this conference does not strike us as revolutionary, it will be because we have experienced so much already. We have a deepening recognition that we all are called to proclaim the gospel, and we are learning to do so together.”

The official Edinburgh 2010 website can be found here: http://www.edinburgh2010.org/

[Ekk/3]

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