2014-11-21 18:33:00

Ecumenical perspectives on the journey to Christian unity

(Vatican Radio) What is the goal of the ecumenical movement today? How far have we come in the past half century in bringing divided Christians closer together? How did the documents and the spirit of the Vatican II influence other Churches and Christian communities? Those were some of the key questions under the spotlight during an event at Rome’s Gregorian University on Friday marking the 50th anniversary of the key Vatican II decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio.

Philippa Hitchen went along to find out more…..


The conference featured Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant perspectives on the relevance of Unitatis Redintegratio half a century after its publication on November 21st 1964. Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, noted how in the prevailing pluralist mentality, the search for full unity can be seen as obsolete, antiquated and unrealistic. While some Protestant churches now accept the goal of ‘reconciled diversity’, he said we must go beyond that if we wish to remain true to the spirit of Unitatis Redintegratio which echoes Christ’s own words about his followers: “that they may be one so that the world may believe.”

Rev. Timothy George is a Baptist theologian, professor and dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He also heads the Baptist World Alliance commission for doctrine and Christian unity and he shared his thoughts on the relevance of the Vatican II documents at the Gregorian University encounter.

The Second Vatican Council, he said, was one of the most significant event of the past century, not just for the Catholic Church but for the entire Christian world. It was a door that opened up a whole new avenue of discussion for all Christians…. The Baptist World Alliance, he noted, was invited to send observers to the Council but decided not to do so as it was very controversial……

Ecumenism and Baptists may not be words that immediately go together in everyone’s mind, he said with a smile, but the Baptist World Alliance has now completed two rounds of dialogue – of five years each – with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity….

Baptists, he said, are a truly global Christian community with over 100 million followers so it’s very important to be involved in the ecumenical movement “to see what we have in common and what our own distinctive Baptist witness is in the midst of all that.”

Dr George said that while there is a disjuncture between official dialogue and grass roots reception in all our traditions, Baptists and Christians often meet together over issues of common concern such as the sanctity of human life or religious freedom and theological dialogue follows on from that…..

Bishop Don Bolen of the diocese of Saskatoon in Canada was formerly an official at the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity – he told me the document Unitatis Redintegatio profoundly shaped his life and the Church that he grew up in. The challenges it raises continue to challenge us today, he said, as it summons us to pray together and to engage in common witness and mission.

One Pope after another, Bishop Bolen noted, has stressed that ecumenism is essential, yet it’s true that so much of the work that’s been done has not filtered down enough into the life of our churches…..One of the ecumenical bodies that Bishop Bolen works on is the International Anglican Roman Catholic commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) which is specifically tasked with working on reception of ecumenical progress. The website www.iarccum.org contains many documents on Anglican-Catholic relations but also many covenants, practical initiatives and liturgical resources which he hope can become best practise for other churches and communities throughout the world




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