This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio). To mark the occasion the Canadian bishops have published a detailed statement on the dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.
As well, in 2015, it will be the 50th anniversary of the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostrae Aetate).
The dialogue between the Church and other communities and religions is inspired, the Canadian bishops explained, by “our understanding of who God is and how God has entered into relationship with the human race and the Church through history.”
We are all called to enter into unity with God, and the Church is meant to be a sign of the saving dialogue of God with the world, the statement continued.
Vatican II marked the beginning of a new initiative of the Church to dialogue and the statement mentioned the 1964 encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, in which he insisted on dialogue as a vital aspect of the Church’s mission.
The encyclical described various characteristics that this dialogue should have: clarity, humility, trust, and pedagogical prudence.
“Dialogue is to be carried out in a spirit of friendship, respect, and service, open to all; never compromising the truth; requiring wisdom, learning, discernment; built on freedom and guided always by hope and love,” the statement said, summarizing one section of the encyclical.
The statement singled out the efforts of Saint John Paul II in carrying out this dialogue during his many travels around the world. This effort was continued by Benedict XVI and is being carried forward by Pope Francis.
“Genuine dialogue does not entail giving up one’s identity, compromising one’s faith and morals, or falling into relativism,” Pope Francis explained in one address.
May they be one in us
From its beginning Vatican II was marked by a desire to achieve a greater unity among Christians, the document observed, made evident in the invitation for observers to attend the Council sessions from other Christian churches and communities.
“The heart of the Church’s commitment to Christian unity has always been Jesus’ prayer the night before he died: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21),” the statement noted.
Quoting Saint John Paul II the Canadian statement said: “the quest for Christian unity is not a matter of choice or expediency, but a duty which springs from the very nature of the Christian community.”
The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism brought about a change in terminology. Instead of speaking about heretics or schismatics it emphasized that we are all baptized into Christ and are members of Christ’s body. The other Christian churches and communities are in a real, but incomplete communion with the Catholic Church.
This reality leads us to a commitment to dialogue, expressed in the triple dimension of love, truth, and life, the statement explained.
Jesus called us to love God and our neighbor. “A dialogue of love reaches in friendship past the fracturing and the suspicions, to encounter other Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
All Catholics, the statement continued, are called upon to play a part in the work of promoting Christian unity, according to our talents and abilities.
A dialogue of truth involves the need to know one another and to overcome misunderstandings and find consensus.
Catholic participants, the statement mentioned, are expected to hold fast to the Church’s teachings, but they should be presented in such a way that others can understand.
“Dialogue of truth is not negotiation; it is a means of standing together before Christ, he who is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6),” the statement said.
Living our mission together
“A dialogue of life compels us, as appropriate, to move out of our separate compartments, to learn to live our Christian life and mission together,” the statement continued.
This includes finding ways to pray and worship together, to communicate with one another, to give a common witness of our faith, and to cooperate with others in working for the common good.
“In our commonly held conviction that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God and has an inherent dignity, we hear the Lord himself calling us to defend human life and dignity, reaching out to those in greatest need, to the most wounded and vulnerable members of the human family,” the statement declared.
“To be committed to reconciliation with other Christians goes hand in hand with a deep faithfulness to Christ,” the statement affirmed in its conclusion.
This anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism offers us a chance to reflect on the past and to consider how we can deepen our commitment to unity in the future, the Canadian bishops urged.