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“It is the Catholic Church, not the Roman Catholic Church. I know Pope Benedict is strongly against using ‘Roman Catholic’ [to describe the whole Catholic Church] because like me he lived through the Nazis. The Nazis called us römisch-katholisch to emphasize the Roman and downplay the Catholic. No German Catholic theologian would use ‘Roman Catholic’ in that way.”
The closing of the very busy Week of Prayer for Christian Unity every year in Rome is the Papal Ecumenical Vespers (Evening Prayer) at the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Built over the tomb of St. Paul, re-confirmed by tests revealed at the end of the Year of Paul last summer, and administered by Abbot Edmund Power and the Benedictine Abbey there, the basilica is known for its ecumenical significance.
In fact, it was at the end of this very service on 25 January 1959, closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, that Pope John XIII announced his intention to convene the Second Vatican Council, making very clear that ecumenism was to be one of the major themes of the council, along with the aggiornamento of the Church and a reconciled engagement with the modern world.
This year, probably Cardinal Walter Kasper’s last as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI made special note of the 100th anniversary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, which marks the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.
The basilica is outside the walls of the historic city centre, but only a few stops away by metro. Between exams and bad weather, and limited tickets, only a few of us from the Lay Centre were able to attend: Andrea, an Italian canon law student; Anna, our New Zealand liturgy student, and myself in one section; with our three Orthodox housemates Theodosius, Dimitrios, and Radmilo, escorted to the front as scholars of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
The readings and prayers of intercession were all offered by ecumenical guests and leadership, including the Archbishop of Canterbury’s permanent representative to the Holy See, Very Rev. David Richardson of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
The Holy Father’s homily is included in full below.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Gathered together in this fraternal liturgical assembly, on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, today we conclude the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet all of you warmly, in particular Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Archpriest of this Basilica, Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, along with the Abbot and the Community of monks whose guests we are. I also extend my cordial thoughts to the Cardinals here present, to the Bishops and to all who represent the Churches and ecclesial Communities of this City who are here today.
Only a few months have passed since the conclusion of the Year dedicated to St Paul, which gave us an opportunity to deepen our awareness of his extraordinary work as a preacher of the Gospel and also of our call to be missionaries of the Gospel, as the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24: 48).
Paul, although he retained an intense memory of his own past as a persecutor of Christians, did not hesitate to call himself an Apostle. For him, the basis of that title lay in his encounter with the Risen One on the road to Damascus, which also became the beginning of his tireless missionary activity. In this he was to spend every ounce of his energy, proclaiming to all the peoples the Christ whom he had met personally.
Thus Paul, from being a persecutor of the Church, was in his turn to become a victim of persecution for the sake of the Gospel to which he witnessed: “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned…. On frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11: 24-25, 26-28). Paul’s witness reached its culmination in his martyrdom when, not so far from here, he was to give proof of his faith in Christ who conquers death.
The dynamic of Paul’s experience is clearly expressed in the pages of the Gospel that we have just heard. The disciples of Emmaus, after having recognized the Risen Lord, return to Jerusalem and find the Eleven gathered together with the others. The Risen Christ appears to them, comforts them, overcomes their fear and doubts, and eats with them. Thus he opens their hearts to the intelligence of the Scriptures, recalling what had to happen, which would constitute the nucleus of the Christian proclamation. Jesus affirms: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24: 46-47). These are the events to which the disciples of the first hour were to bear witness, followed by believers in Christ of all times and places. It is important, however, to emphasize that this witness, then just as now, is born from the encounter with the Risen One, is fed by a constant relationship with him and animated by a profound love for him. One can only be his witness if one has had the experience of feeling Christ alive and present “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Lk 24: 39) of sitting at table with him, of listening as he sets one’s heart aflame! For this, Jesus promises his disciples and each of us a powerful aid from on high, a new presence, that of the Holy Spirit, gift of the Risen Christ, who guides us to the whole truth: “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you” (Lk 24: 49). The Eleven were to spend their whole lives proclaiming the Good News of the death and Resurrection of the Lord. Almost all of them were to seal their witness with the blood of martyrdom, a fertile seed that has produced an abundant harvest.
The choice of the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the invitation, that is, to a common witness of the Risen Christ in accordance with the mandate he entrusted to his disciples is linked to the memory of the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, in Scotland, widely considered a crucial event in the birth of the modern ecumenical movement.
In the summer of 1910, in the Scottish capital, over 1,000 missionaries from diverse branches of Protestantism and Anglicanism, who were joined by one Orthodox guest, met to reflect together on the necessity of achieving unity in order to be credible in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is precisely this desire to proclaim Christ to others and to carry his message of reconciliation throughout the world that makes one realize the contradiction posed by division among Christians.
Indeed, how can non-believers accept the Gospel proclamation if Christians even if they all call on the same Christ are divided among themselves? Moreover, as we know, the same Teacher, at the end of the Last Supper, had prayed to the Father for his disciples: “That they may all be one… so that the world may believe” (Jn 17: 21). The communion and unity of Christ’s disciples is therefore a particularly important condition to enhance the credibility and efficacy of their witness.
Now a century after the Edinburgh event, the intuition of those courageous precursors is still very timely. In a world marked by religious indifference, and even by a growing aversion to the Christian faith, it is necessary to discover a new, intense method of evangelization, not only among the peoples who have never known the Gospel but also among those where Christianity has spread and is part of their history. Unfortunately, the issues that separate us from each other are many, and we hope that they can be resolved through prayer and dialogue. There is, however, a core of the Christian message that we can all proclaim together: the fatherhood of God, the victory of Christ over sin and death with his Cross and Resurrection, and faith in the transforming action of the Spirit.
While we journey toward full communion, we are called to offer a common witness in the face of the ever increasingly complex challenges of our time, such as secularization and indifference, relativism and hedonism, the delicate ethical issues concerning the beginning and end of life, the limits of science and technology, the dialogue with other religious traditions. There are also other areas in which we must from now on give a common witness: the safeguard of Creation, the promotion of the common good and of peace, the defense of the centrality of the human person, the commitment to overcome the shortcomings of our time, such as hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the unequal distribution of goods.
The commitment to unity among Christians is not the work of a few only, nor is it an incidental undertaking for the life of the Church. Each one of us is called to make his or her contribution towards the completion of those steps that lead to full communion among the disciples of Christ, without ever forgetting that this unity is above all a gift from God to be constantly invoked. In fact, the force that supports both unity and the mission flows from the fruitful encounter with the Risen One, just as was the case for St Paul on the road to Damascus, and for the Eleven and the other disciples gathered at Jerusalem.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, grant that her Son’s desire may be fulfilled as soon as possible: “That they may all be one… so that the world may believe” (Jn 17: 21).
© Copyright 2010 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana
The Oratory of Saint Francis Xavier “del Caravita” is one of those churches in Rome you would never find unless you knew where to look, even though it is just off one of the main thoroughfares in the City. It is described as “an international catholic community in Rome”, Jesuit in origin but staffed by priests from four different orders. Aside from the national churches for the U.S., England, Ireland, and the Philippines it is the only Catholic church offering weekly Sunday liturgy in English.
On Friday, we celebrated evening prayer presided by Cardinal Kasper, with Archbishop Rowan Williams as the homilist, sponsored by the Anglican Centre in Rome. A simple and beautiful liturgy with what I thought was an especially powerful version of the renewal of baptismal vows, it was a nice counterbalance to the Colloquium the day before: a day of academic lecture complemented by an evening of prayer.
The pack of news photographers that had followed Dr. Williams throughout the lectures yesterday was back tonight, and it amazes me he was able to focus on preaching with the constant picture taking. Of course, trying to find one of these photos online to share is not easy, this is the best I could do: http://www.catholicpressphoto.com/servizi/2009-11-20%20Vespri/default.htm
After the prayer, we were able to meet the Cardinal, the Archbishop, and even U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz and his wife, Marian, who were in attendance. Unfortunately, we only got a couple shots with Archbishop Williams, though I did invite Cardinal Kasper to dine at the Lay Centre sometime. (We’re on the Ambassador’s list already. Somewhere down there…)
Johannes Cardinal Willebrands would have celebrated his 100th birthday this fall, and Rome honored this great ecumenist, bishop, and Council father with a day-long Colloquium hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Cardinal Willebrands was bishop of Utrecht in his native Netherlands, and served for twenty years as the second president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, from 1969-1989, succeeding Cardinal Agustin Bea with whom he had worked closely during the Council.
Seven lectures traced the contributions of Cardinal Willebrands to the Church and the churches, each about half an hour, interspersed with Q & A time and the obligatory pausa for caffè and pranzo:
- William Henn, OFM: Cardinal Willebrands and the relations between Rome and the Ecumenical Council of the Church
- Michel Van Parys, OSB: Cardinal Willebrands and ecumenical relations with the Churches of the East
- James Puglisi, SA: Cardinal Willebrands and ecumenical relations with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West
- Msgr. Pier Francesco Fumagalli: Cardinal Willebrands and the Jews
- Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury: An Ecumenical Testimony
- Jared Wicks, SJ: Cardinal Willebrands and the development of Catholic ecumenical theology
- Cardinal Walter Kasper: The heritage of Cardinal Willebrands and the future of ecumenism
Unfortunately, the Holy Father’s general audience for the students of the Roman universities was scheduled during the morning, so several students opted for that instead, but the ecumenical section of the Angelicum was here almost in full!
While the morning helped paint a vivid picture of the life and many contributions of Willebrands to the Catholic Church and its commitment to ecumenism, the afternoon focused as much on the current and future situations, and made several references to Cardinal Kasper’s new book, Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue.
When some people lament the apparent ‘slowing’ of ecumenical progress in the last twenty years, as compared to the previous thirty, the golden age remembered is the period in which Willebrands was either President or Secretary of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity (named the Secretariat for Christian Unity when first established).
Cardinal Kasper has described him this way:
“He had many qualities: sensitivity and discernment in judging people and situations; great capacity to communicate; the gift of nurturing true friendships. All this is fundamental for ecumenical dialogue since ecumenism means overcoming suspicion, building trust and creating friendships. In Willebrands we find the right balance between a passionate eagerness for unity and that patience which does not try to force things but lets them grow and mature. Not least, Willebrands had an exceptionally fine sense of humour, humour being often the only way to face small-minded and sheepish attitudes.”
Before the Council, when Catholics could not attend ecumenical meetings or participate in ecumenical prayer, Willebrands and others would faithfully observe the letter of the law, then accept invitations to tea with a group of sisters who would also, coincidentally, invite the members of whatever commission or meeting was going on in ecumenical circles. In this way early Catholic contributions were not lost to the ecumenical conversations, and the beginnings of a network of friendships was being developed. It was a way of being “obedient to the Church, and more obedient to the will of Christ”.
Willebrands established a “Catholic Conference for Ecumenical Questions” in 1951, to discuss Catholic issues ‘in response to’ some ecumenical initiatives. This was done while maintaining open contact with Cardinal Ottaviani in the Holy Office (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). He was instrumental in arranging the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in which the mutual excommunications of 1054 were renounced. He helped establish the Joint Working Group of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and was the primary point of contact between the WCC and the Catholic Church for decades.
During the Council, Willebrands was able to use the previous decade of personal relationships to draw up a list of ecumenical observers to be invited, and was their host throughout the Council. These observers and staff of the secretariat would meet weekly at the Centro Pro Unione on Thursdays, to get a debriefing of the week’s interventions (which were in Latin) in English and other more common languages. Often there would be a presentation by one or more of the peritii of the council. As the bishops themselves heard about these gatherings more and more would attend, at the least to hear in an understandable language what had been discussed in front of them the week previous!
Near retirement, Willebrands noted that the best ecumenists have been theologians, but also that “ecumenism is first a way of being Christian, before it is a theological or pastoral competence.” He published, in 1987, an article titled “Subsistit in”, Vatican’s Ecclesiology of Communion, which is one of the most authoritative interpretations of the nature of the church in Lumen Gentium 8, along with the work of Joseph Ratzinger and Walter Kasper.
One of the last reflections he gave in Rome before retiring to the Netherlands was at the invitation of the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, and delivered in the Centro Pro Unione, “Why I Am a Man of Hope” – a summation of all his experience and why he maintained hope for the future of the Church and ecumenism.
Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury
In reading some of the headlines the next day, you might have thought that the entire colloquium was just a platform from which the Archbishop of Canterbury could fling the gauntlet at Benedict’s feet on the issue of the ordination of women. This was not the case, and the issue of ordination was raised as an case in the broader question of the relationship between local and universal church, and the theological weight of divisive issues. (His entire address is here.)
Rather, it was a time for him to assert that he too, was a man of hope for the future of the ecumenical imperative, while acknowledging some hard questions that need to be asked, the central question being,
“…whether and how we can properly tell the difference between ‘second order’ and ‘first order’ issues. When so very much agreement has been firmly established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?”
In other words, given the depth of our agreement on the nature and mission of the church, on Baptism and Eucharist, et cetera, do the remaining issues of division – such as the understanding of authority, primacy and the relationship of local to universal church – carry the same weight as the issues that unite us? These are questions pertaining to the hierarchy of truths, and asked by our fellow Christians who desire unity:
“All I have been attempting to say here is that the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full – and then to ask about the character of the unfinished business between us. For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain. And if it isn’t, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?”