Ecumenical Address in Cologne
Pope Benedict XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our common Lord!
It is a pleasure for me to meet you, the representatives of other Churches and ecclesial Communities, during my visit to Germany. I greet you all most cordially! As a native of this country, I am quite aware of the painful situation which the rupture of unity in the profession of the faith has entailed for so many individuals and families. This was one of the reasons why, immediately following my election as Bishop of Rome, I declared, as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, my firm commitment to making the recovery of full and visible Christian unity a priority of my Pontificate. In doing so, I wished consciously to follow in the footsteps of two of my great Predecessors: Pope Paul VI, who forty years ago signed the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, and Pope John Paul II, who made that document the inspiration for his activity. In ecumenical dialogue Germany has a place of particular importance. Not only is it the place where the Reformation began; it is also one of those countries where the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century originated. With the successive waves of immigration in the last century, Christians from the Orthodox Churches and the ancient Churches of the East also found a new homeland in this country. This certainly favoured greater contact and exchanges. Together we can rejoice in the fact that ecumenical dialogue, with the passage of time, has brought about a renewed sense of fraternity and has created a more open and trusting climate between Christians belonging to the various Churches and ecclesial Communities. My venerable Predecessor, in his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995) saw this as an especially significant fruit of dialogue (cf. Nos. 41ff; 64).
Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. It is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us members of the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 2:12). Together we confess that Jesus Christ is God and Lord; together we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim 2:5) and we emphasize that together we are members of his Body (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 22; Ut Unum Sint, 42). On this shared foundation dialogue has borne its fruits. I would like to mention the re-examination of the mutual condemnations, called for by John Paul II during his first visit to Germany in 1980, and above all the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" (1999), which grew out of that re-examination and led to an agreement on basic issues that had been a subject of controversy since the sixteenth century. We should also acknowledge with gratitude the results of our common stand on important matters such as the fundamental questions involving the defence of life and the promotion of justice and peace. I am well aware that many Christians in this country, and not only in this country, expect further concrete steps to bring us closer together. I myself have the same expectation. It is the Lord’s command, but also the imperative of the present hour, to carry on dialogue, with conviction, at all levels of the Church’s life. This must obviously take place with sincerity and realism, with patience and perseverance, in complete fidelity to the dictates of one’s conscience. There can be no dialogue at the expense of truth; the dialogue must advance in charity and in truth.
I do not intend here to outline a programme for the immediate themes of dialogue - this task belongs to theologians working alongside the Bishops. I simply wish to make an observation: ecclesiological issues, and especially the question of the sacred ministry or priesthood, are inseparably linked with that of the relationship between Scripture and Church, that is to say the correct interpretation of the Word of God and its development within the life of the Church.
Another urgent priority in ecumenical dialogue arises from the great ethical questions of our time; in this area, modern research rightly expects a common response on the part of Christians, which, thanks be to God, has often been forthcoming. But not always, alas. Because of contradictory positions in these areas, our witness to the Gospel and the ethical guidance which we owe to the faithful and to society lose their impact and often appear too vague, with the result that we fail in our duty to provide the witness that is needed in our time. Our divisions are contrary to the will of Jesus and they disappoint the expectations of our contemporaries.
What does it mean to restore the unity of all Christians? The Catholic Church has as her goal the full visible unity of the disciples of Christ, as defined by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in its various documents (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8, 13; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2, 4, etc.). This unity subsists, we are convinced, in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 4). This does not, however, mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline. Unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity: in my Homily for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul on 29 June last, I insisted that full unity and full catholicity go together. As a necessary condition for the achievement of this coexistence, the commitment to unity must be constantly purified and renewed; it must constantly grow and mature. To this end, dialogue has its own contribution to make. More than an exchange of thoughts, it is an exchange of gifts (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 28), in which the Churches and the ecclesial Communities can make available their own riches (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8, 15; Unitatis Redintegratio, 3, 14ff; Ut Unum Sint, 10-14). As a result of this commitment, the journey can move forward step by step along the path to full unity, when at last we will all "attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). It is obvious that, in the end, this dialogue can develop only in a context of sincere and committed spirituality. We cannot "bring about" unity by our powers alone. We can only obtain unity as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, spiritual ecumenism – prayer, conversion and the sanctification of life – constitute the heart of the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 8; Ut Unum Sint, 15ff., 21, etc.). It could be said that the best form of ecumenism consists in living in accordance with the Gospel.
I see good reason for optimism in the fact that today a kind of "network" of spiritual links is developing between Catholics and Christians from the different Churches and ecclesial Communities: each individual commits himself to prayer, to the examination of his own life, to the purification of memory, to the openness of charity. The father of spiritual ecumenism, Paul Couturier, spoke in this regard of an "invisible cloister" which unites within its walls those souls inflamed with love for Christ and his Church. I am convinced that if more and more people unite themselves to the Lord’s prayer "that all may be one" (Jn 17:21), then this prayer, made in the name of Jesus, will not go unheard (cf. Jn 14:13; 15:7, 16, etc.). With the help that comes from on high, we will also find practical solutions to the different questions which remain open, and in the end our desire for unity will come to fulfilment, whenever and however the Lord wills. I invite all of you to join me in following this path.
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