Here is a translation of Pope Francis' address this afternoon to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which is taking place in Rome through Friday on the theme: “The Aim of Ecumenism: Principles, Opportunities and Challenges Fifty Years After Unitatis Redintegratio:” 

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Lord Cardinals,

Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you all cordially and thank you for this meeting, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio of Vatican Council II on Ecumenism. Also promulgated on that November 21, 1964, were Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church; and Orientalium Ecclesiarum, the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches.  The whole of these three documents, so profoundly linked to one another, offers the vision of Catholic ecclesiology as proposed by Vatican Council II. Therefore, you wished to dedicate your works to reflect on how Unitatis Redintegratio can continue to inspire the Church’s ecumenical commitment in today’s changed scenario.

First of all we can rejoice over the fact that the teaching of the Council was amply received. In these years, on the basis of theological motivations rooted in Scripture and in the Tradition of the Church, the attitude of us, Catholics, has changed in our dealings with Christians of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. At this point, the hostility and indifference, which had dug seemingly insurmountable ditches and produced deep wounds, belong to the past, while a process of healing has been underway that enables us to receive the other as a brother or sister, in the profound unity born of Baptism.

This change of mentality, realized thanks to Unitatis Redintegratio and the ecumenical action that it obtained, can and must penetrate ever more profoundly in the theological teaching and pastoral practice of the Dioceses, of Institutes of Consecrated Life, and of Ecclesial Associations and Movements. In all the faithful there must always be alive the awareness of the commitment that entails the will of Jesus expressed in His prayer to the Father on the eve of His Passion: “That they may all be one” (John 17:21).

This anniversary also invites us to render thanks to God for the many fruits that during this half century have been gathered. In particular, it confirms what the Council recommended, namely, the appreciation of all that is good and true in the life of Christians of every community.

All this has made possible deeper contacts with many Churches and Ecclesial Communities and the development of new ways of collaboration. Very important, in this connection, have been the ecumenical translations of Sacred Scripture. Christians of different Churches and Ecclesial Communities do their utmost together at the service of suffering and needy humanity, for the defense of human life and its inalienable dignity, for the safeguarding of Creation and against the injustices that afflict so many men and peoples.

As Bishop of the Church who presides in universal charity, I wish to express my gratitude to all those who, in the course of these fifty years, spent themselves in different ways at the service of reconciliation and communion among all believers in Christ, in particular all those who worked in the Secretariat for Christian Unity and in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

While giving thanks, we must acknowledge that as Christians, we are still divided, and that differences on new anthropological and ethical subjects render our path towards unity more complicated. However, we cannot yield to  dejection and resignation, but must continue to trust God, who puts in the hearts of Christians seeds of love and unity, to address with renewed thrust the ecumenical challenges of today: to cultivate spiritual ecumenism, to appreciate the ecumenism of blood, to walk together in the way of the Gospel.

Spiritual ecumenism, which has its culminating moment in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, lives and develops through innumerable channels, which truly only the Lord sees, but that often we also have the joy to know: it is a global network of moments of prayer that, at the parish and international level, diffuse in the Body of the Church the oxygen of a genuine ecumenical spirit; a network of gestures, which sees us unite, working together in many works of charity; and it is also a sharing of prayer, of meditations and other texts that circulate on the Web and can contribute to make mutual knowledge, respect and esteem grow.

In regard to the ecumenism of blood, Unitatis Redintegration, in fact, invited to recognize in brothers and sisters of other Churches and Christian Communities the capacity – given by God – to give witness to Christ up to the sacrifice of life (cf. n. 4). Such testimonies have never been lacking in these fifty years and they continue also in our days. It is for us to receive them with faith and to let their force push us to be converted to an ever fuller fraternity. Those who persecute Christ in His faithful do not make distinctions of confessions: they persecute them simply because they are Christians.

In these months, meeting so many non-Catholic Christians, or reading their letters, I have been able to see how, despite open questions that still separate us, there is a widespread and strong desire to walk together, to pray, to know and love the Lord, to collaborate in service and solidarity with the weak and the suffering. I am convinced of this: in a common journey, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and learning from one another we can grow in the communion that already unites us.

Dear brothers and sisters, fifty years after Unitatis Redintegratio, the quest for the full unity of Christians remains a priority for the Catholic Church, and is, therefore, for me one of my main daily preoccupations. Unity is first of all a gift of God and work of the Holy Spirit, but we are all called to collaborate always and in every circumstance. Therefore, I thank you for all your work and, on entrusting you to the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I ask you, please, to pray for me and for my ministry and I bless you from my heart.

[Original Text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]