By Mirko Testa
ROME, DEC. 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity presided over a Methodist celebration — an event he said would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Cardinal Walter Kasper led an anniversary celebration Dec. 3, marking the birth of Charles Wesley (1707-1788), one of the initiators of the Methodist congregation. The ecumenical event was organized by the World Methodist Council and held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It was attended by the highest Methodist leaders and the Anglican Communion.
“Some years ago, something like this would have been unthinkable,” the cardinal told L’Osservatore Romano. “It does not mean that tomorrow there will be unity with the Methodists. It would be naive to think that. But something is seen to be moving. It is clear.”
After the words of John Barrett, president of the World Methodist Council, Cardinal Kasper read a message in which he emphasized the opportunity “of celebrating this anniversary singing some of Charles Wesley’s hymns, which are interpreted in the Catholic churches of the English-speaking world, and have enriched our praise and our celebration of the saving grace of God throughout generations.”
“His hymns,” he added, “which reconcile eloquent language and theological depth of the Scriptures with the faith of the Church through the centuries, contain themes that reflect the convergence between Methodists and Catholics about fundamental aspects of the Christian faith.”
“The hymns of Charles Wesley,” Cardinal Kasper continued, “although they contain some references that could grieve us, since they reflect the polemic context of the time in which they were written, are a gift to welcome, giving attention to full communion in faith, in the mission and in sacramental life, which is the objective of dialogue between Catholics and Methodists.”
“I trust that our dialogue will continue,” the cardinal concluded.
In 1967, the Catholic Church established a joint commission for bilateral dialogue with the World Methodist Council. The Catholic-Methodist commission has addressed themes such as revelation and faith, tradition and the teaching authority of the Church.
In 2006, two important steps marked the path toward full communion. In May, the Catholic-Methodist commission concluded the drafting of its final document, titled “The Grace That Has Been Given Us in Christ: Catholics and Methodists Deepen the Reflection About the Church.”
In July, in Seoul, South Korea, the World Methodist Council approved a declaration of adhesion to the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran statement on the doctrine of justification.
The Methodist community has some 50 million faithful worldwide.