Ecumenism, which seeks global church unity, is in need of new energy, top Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican leaders have said at commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of a Vatican group to help bring about Christian unity - writes Luigi Sandri.
On 5 June 1960, the day of Pentecost, as part of preparations for the 1962 to 1965 second Vatican council, Pope John XXIII established a secretariat for promoting Christian unity. In 1988, John Paul II changed the name to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
"Today, some people believe that this journey has lost its impetus, especially in the West," the Vatican Information Service quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying. "Thus do we see the urgent need to revive ecumenical interest and give a fresh incisiveness to dialogue."
He also said, "The Catholic Church passionately continues her dialogue with the Orthodox Churches and the Ancient Eastern Churches, with which bonds of the 'closest intimacy' exist, seriously and rigorously seeking to develop our shared theological, liturgical and spiritual heritage, and to face the elements that still divide us."
Benedict added, "With the Orthodox we have reached a crucial point of confrontation and reflection: the role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church. The ecclesiological question is also at the heart of dialogue with the Ancient Eastern Churches: despite many centuries of misunderstanding and remoteness we have joyfully noted that we have preserved a precious shared heritage."
The former president of the body, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and the current office holder, Archbishop Kurt Koch of Switzerland, led a ceremony on 17 November in the Vatican to commemorate the founding of the unity secretariat.
Over many years, the secretariat and pontifical council have coordinated their church's ecumenical relations both through multilateral and bilateral contacts and discussions with many churches and Christian communities, including the World Council of Churches, a grouping that includes more than 500 million Anglicans, Orthodox and Protestants.
Koch said the true aim of ecumenism is to find a, "new rush" for Christian witness and to sustain dialogue, "in spite of difficulties and breaks".
Representatives of many Christian churches attended the 50th anniversary event in Rome. The Orthodox Metropolitan of Pergamo, Ioannis (Zizioulas), of the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, told the gathering he was committed to ecumenism in order to deepen the notion of the, "Church as communion at the local and universal level".
Still, he added that the search for Christian unity cannot, "forget differences on the vision of the Petrine primacy". This was a reference to the differences that exist between Catholic and Orthodox Christians on the understanding of the role of the bishop of Rome, as the Pope is also known. The Catholic Church sees the apostle Peter as the first bishop of Rome.
The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who also attended the event, said that ecumenical relationships must be strengthened by, "the new challenges for unity coming from inside the Christian community, and from outside it".
According to some church observers, Williams has been troubled because some Anglican bishops have recently announced they will became Catholics due to their opposition to the acceptance of women bishops and the ordination of homosexuals by some parts of the Anglican Communion.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Williams said his reaction to the resignations was, "one of regret but respect". He explained that two of those who had said they would become Catholics were his assistant bishops but there had been no row, "We have talked about it. We have worked through it and parted with prayers and blessings, so there is no ill feeling there."
The archbishop told Vatican Radio, "There are still a great many Anglicans in the Church of England who would call themselves traditionalists, and who have no intention of jumping ship." Still, he acknowledged that these people, "are in considerable confusion and distress, wondering what the Church of England can do for them".
The Pope's full statement can be read at: visnews-en.blogspot.com/
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]