Pope Presses for Ecumenical Progress

Presides Over Interfaith Celebration at St. Paul´s

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ROME, JAN. 25, 2001 (Zenit.org).-
Presiding over an Ecumenical Celebration of the Word this morning, John Paul II said that Christians this year must strive decisively to promote unity among separated brethren.

The ceremony, which took place in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, gave the finishing touch to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Among the ecumenical moments John Paul II will promote this year, is the celebration of Christ´s resurrection, which coincides in the calendars of Christian churches, a coincidence that “should encourage us to come to an agreement to celebrate this feast on a common date,” the Pope said.

The Pontiff also confirmed that this year he will visit at least two countries with important non-Catholic Christian communities: Ukraine and Syria. With these pilgrimages, he said he hopes to contribute “to reconciliation and peace among Christians.”

“Once again, I will go as a pilgrim on the roads of the world to witness to Christ, ´Way, Truth and Life,´” he added.

There were representatives from virtually all the Orthodox Churches of the world attending the ceremony, including delegates from Constantinople, Moscow and Greece; from the Oriental Apostolic Churches, as well as the Anglican Communion, the World Lutheran Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, World Methodist Council, and the World Baptist Alliance.

The World Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical institution, which embraces all the Christian churches and denominations of the world — more than 330, with the exception of the Catholic Church — was also represented at the celebration.

“True ecumenical commitment does not look for compromises and makes no concessions as regards truth,” John Paul II said to the Christian leaders during the homily. “It knows that the separations among Christians are contrary to the will of Christ: It knows that it is a scandal, that it weakens the voice of the Gospel. It must make an effort not to ignore them, but to overcome them. At the same time, awareness of what is lacking for full communion makes us appreciate to a greater extent what we already share.”

“There is no ecclesial void outside the Catholic Church,” the Bishop of Rome said. “What is more, there are many fruits of the Spirit as, for example, sanctity and witness to Christ, at times to the effusion of blood, which lead to admiration and gratitude.”

He continued: “The pain of incomprehension and misunderstandings must be overcome with prayer and penance, with gestures of love, with theological research. The questions that continue open must not be regarded as an obstacle to dialogue, but as an invitation to honest and charitable relations.”

“However, the dialogue of charity would not be sincere without the dialogue of truth,” the Pope added. “We cannot overlook differences; we cannot modify the deposit of faith. However, it is not up to us to ´make the unity,´ because it is a gift of the Lord. Therefore, we must pray, as we have done during this week, so that we will be given the Spirit of unity.”

At the end of the homily, the Christian leaders professed their faith together, which was followed by the sign of peace and the hymn to charity, the prayer of the Father for communion in unity, and Aaron´s blessing.

Before returning to the Vatican, John Paul II dined in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls with the participants of the ecumenical celebration.

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