"The walls of separation do not reach to heaven"
Last Friday saw the public commemoration at the Gregorian University in Rome of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II decree ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’, the document that marked the start of a new era in the Church’s relationships with Christians of all different denominations. On Thursday, Pope Francis shared with members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that the search for full Christian unity remains one of his principle daily concerns, and continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church.
For Anglicans who believe the full Catholic Faith, who yearn for the Church’s unity, and who truly believed back in the 1970s that we would witness the fruition of that miracle in our lifetime, these are such difficult days. Our hearts are torn assunder as our part of the Church persists in putting new obstacles in the way of the unity for which Jesus prayed.
Those of us who remain Anglicans live with that disappointment (trying to offer the pain it gives us to the Father as intercession for unity, joining it to the suffering of Jesus so that it at least becomes redemptive). And even as we adjust the time scale of our dreams to accord with the new reality, we seek a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit to enable us to evangelise, grow our parish communities, and lovingly but firmly defend the fulness of the Faith within our part of the Church. At the same time we are deeply encouraged that the Successor of St Peter loves us, shares the pain of our not being in full communion, and is still prayerfully strengthening his brethren (Luke 22:32). In spite of the new obstacles, he has not given up on us.
On the Vatican Radio website, Philippa Hitchen reports:
In a letter given to participants during a meeting at Santa Marta, the Pope notes that the Vatican II teaching, contained in ‘Unitatis Redintegratio’, as well as the other two ecclesiological texts ‘Lumen Gentium’ and ‘Orientalium Ecclesiarum’ has been fully embraced. Earlier hostility and indifference that caused such deep wounds between Christians, the Pope says, have given way to a process of healing that allows us to welcome others as brothers and sisters, united in our common baptism.
This changed mentality, he says, must penetrate ever more deeply into the theological teachings and pastoral practise of dioceses, institutes of consecrated life, associations and ecclesial movements. At the same time, he adds, this anniversary offers an opportunity to give thanks to God that we can now appreciate all that is good and true within the life of the different Christian communities.
Pope Francis thanks all those who, over the past half century, have pioneered this process of reconciliation and he mentions the important role that ecumenical translations of the Bible have played in developing closer cooperation among Christians.
But as we give thanks, the Pope says, we must also recognise continuing divisions and new ethical issues which are complicating our journey towards unity in Christ. Rather than being resigned to the difficulties, he says, we must continue to trust in God who plants seeds of love in the hearts of all Christians.
Finally the Pope calls for a renewed commitment to spiritual ecumenism and to the rediscovery of shared Christian martyrdom. Spiritual ecumenism, he says, is that global network of communal moments of prayer, united gestures of charity and shared reflections on the web which circulate like oxygen, contributing to the growth of understanding, respect and mutual esteem. Ecumenism of the martyrs, he notes, continues today wherever our brothers and sisters sacrifice their lives for their faith, since those who persecute Christ’s followers make no distinction between the different Christian confessions.
In my many encounters or correspondence with other Christians, Pope Francis concludes, I see a strong desire to walk and pray together, to know and love the Lord and to work together in the service of the weak and suffering. On this common journey, he says, I am convinced that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can learn from each other and grow into the communion which already unites us.