Cardinal Cassidy on the Progress of Ecumenism

«Very Significant Gesture on the Part of the Holy Father»

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ROME, NOV. 28, 2004 ( Cardinal Edward Cassidy sees a sign of hope in John Paul II’s handing over the relics of Sts. Gregory Nazianzen and John Chrysostom to Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I.

The 80-year-old retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity spoke to ZENIT about Saturday’s event in the context of the Church’s work in ecumenism.

Q: You have seen a lot of fluctuations during your time working in the Roman Curia in the area of ecumenism. How do you feel about the handing-over ceremony of the relics of these saints?

Cardinal Cassidy: Well, I think it’s a very significant gesture on the part of the Holy Father. But it also shows how our relationships have developed over these years that we are able to have such a function.

If you go back just a very short time to some of the things that have happened — the Holy Year, for instance, and then in this year, with the visit of the patriarch in June and now again, coming for the second time this year for this particular purpose — I think it’s a sign of the new relationship which we have established over the last 40 years of our work for Christian unity.

We still have many difficulties but these are all signs that a great deal of progress has been made. And they give us hope for the future.

Q: What sort of progress has the Catholic Church made in the area of ecumenism since the Second Vatican Council?

Cardinal Cassidy: A tremendous amount certainly. I mean, up until then, our attitude in general toward the other Churches was that, well, «they could come home any time they wished … we were ready to receive them.»

The Vatican council radically changed that attitude by saying: «No, we have to go out to our other brothers and sisters because Christ wants the unity of the Church.»

We are bound, if we wish to be truly followers of Christ, to work for unity. And this doesn’t just mean leaving the door open but rather looking for ways to go out and meet the others and to create a relationship by which they are ready then to consider the possibility of entering into full communion with us.

Q: What has changed since you were working in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Do you think relationships with other Churches are improved?

Cardinal Cassidy: Yes, there’s no doubt. But at the same time we have to acknowledge that there has been some difficulties and that there will continue to be difficulties.

We have had a lot of difficulty with the Russian Orthodox Church over the past few years, for instance, about various questions there, such as our presence in Russia.

However, then that can be balanced, if you will, by a much better relationship with the Greek Church than we had before. … With the Serbian Church now also, we are closer than we were five, 10 years ago.

But though it is still not a simple path that we have to walk, it’s truly a wonderful path — a path that the Holy Father describes as one full of joy and hope.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge to ecumenism today?

Cardinal Cassidy: There are a few. I suppose that one of the biggest is that we still have a lot to do in our own Church before the decisions of the Second Vatican Council will have entered right down into the life of our Church so that people really understand what we are trying to do and why we are doing it — so that they are also aware that it’s not going to happen tomorrow.

It’s a process that’s going to take time and there’s no use getting frustrated and saying that we should be further ahead.

I think it’s really there that we have to work in our own Church to bring the council more alive in the life of the parishes, the life of the diocese and the life of the nations.

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