(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday with a delegation of the Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Union of Utrecht, reflecting on the shared ecumenical journey since the group broke away from Rome in the 18th century over questions of papal authority. The group was led by the Archbishop of Utrecht Dr Joris Vercammen, president of the International Old Catholic Bishops Conference.
Philippa Hitchen reports:
Noting that the International Dialogue Commission between Rome and the Old Catholic Church has helped build “new bridges” of mutual understanding and practical co-operation, Pope Francis said convergences and consensus have been found, and differences between the two groups have been more clearly identified. At the same time though, he said we are also saddened when we recognize “new disagreements” that have emerged on matters of ministry and ethical discernment, making the theological and ecclesiological questions harder to overcome.
The challenge for Catholics and Old Catholics, Pope Francis said, is to persevere in dialogue and to walk, pray and work together in a deeper spirit of conversion. Noting that there have been “grave sins” on the part of both sides, the Pope said in a spirit of mutual forgiveness and humble repentance, we need now to strengthen our desire for reconciliation and peace. The path towards unity begins with a change of heart, he stressed and on the spiritual journey from encounter to friendship, from friendship to brotherhood, from brotherhood to communion, change is inevitable if we are willing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In the meantime, the Pope said, there are many areas in which Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in tackling the profound spiritual crisis affecting individuals and societies, especially in Europe which is “so confused about its identity and vocation”. There is an urgent need for a convincing witness to the truth and values of the Gospel, he said and in this we can support and encourage one another, especially at the level of parishes and local communities. The soul of ecumenism, Pope Francis said, lies in a “change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians.”
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