The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins this Friday and ends a week later, on the Jan. 25 feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Every year on this occasion, ecumenical activities are carried out in Rome, as well as in dioceses, parishes, movements, schools and seminaries, or wherever Christians are open to dialogue and coming together for prayer.
The entity in charge of promoting this initiative in the whole Catholic Church is the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
ZENIT talked with its prefect, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is also in charge of the dialogue with Judaism.
Part I of the interview was published Wednesday.
ZENIT: The issue that worries many is new changes decided in the Anglican Communion.
Cardinal Koch: There is something that is clear. Our objective for unity is unity in the faith, in the sacraments and in the ministries, and if the Anglicans change everything in the ministry, this becomes a great challenge even for us. These developments are causing much tension within the Anglican Communion, and we want, we need, to help to recover Anglican unity, but only if the Anglicans want our help.
ZENIT: Another aspect that calls attention is the strong secularization in Europe and in other places. Are studies being made on how Christians will respond to these currents, which annul and erase God from public life?
Cardinal Koch: In the first place, Christians in Europe must take into account their responsibility in this development as, after the Reformation, we had the schism, the division, and after the division there have been many confessional wars. I would say that these wars and situations have made religion in Europe no longer the foundation of unity in the society, but the root of all the conflicts. In this connection, modern society has had to find a new basis for its unity, independent of religion.
ZENIT: What you are saying explains many things today.
Cardinal Koch: The flip side would be that, if Christianity wants to help to rediscover the religious and transcendent dimension in European society, it must rediscover its unity. Ecumenism is now a great challenge for the very secularized situation Europe is living, given that only a common voice from Christians — with Christian values — will help to rediscover those values which are fundamental in Europe’s history.
ZENIT: And what response has the Catholic Church’s push for a New Evangelization received from the other groups?
Cardinal Koch: The New Evangelization must have an ecumenical dimension, because it’s obvious that in Jesus’ priestly prayer He prayed that all would be one, so that the world would believe. The credibility of the proclamation of the Gospel depends on the unity of the Church. I have many ecumenical counterparts who are happy with this initiative, however, there are still some who aren’t. It’s very important to encourage all ecumenical counterparts to reflect further on the challenge of the New Evangelization.
ZENIT: And who are the most enthusiastic?
Cardinal Koch: I must say that now there is a great division in ecumenism across the Churches. On one hand we have a liberal ecumenism between Catholics and Protestants. And on the other, there is the vision to reflect further on the foundations of the faith between the Catholic and evangelical communities. The New Evangelization is a great challenge in the latter group.
ZENIT: In what other activities is your dicastery involved?
Cardinal Koch: In the first place, in this Year of Faith, the challenge will be for ecumenism to reflect further on the foundations of the faith, because ecumenism isn’t something diplomatic or political, but refers to the faith. We need to rediscover our common faith and the confession of the Apostolic faith, and we must reflect further on ecumenism’s common objective. The second aspect is to reflect on the spiritual dimension and to discover the roots of spiritual ecumenism and of the commitment to unity.
ZENIT: Finally, what must be the attitude of the ordinary Catholic to other Christians?
Cardinal Koch: I think what Blessed John Paul II said is very important: that ecumenism is not only an exchange of ideas, but an exchange of gifts. Each of the Churches has its particular treasures in the Tradition of the faith. That’s why we mustn’t be afraid of ecumenism, because it’s an enrichment. My experience is that, with ecumenism I have become more Catholic. Because I also see the great things, the advantages of our Church, especially the great gift we have received with the papacy, with the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as center of the unity of the Church, and this is a great advantage.
ZENIT: That’s the “great objective,” no?
Cardinal Koch: Pope Pius XII said that ecumenism is an idea of the Holy Spirit. And Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, the whole world is convinced that ecumenism is a gift of the Holy Spirit and we must have an open heart for this gift, and listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to us in ecumenism’s present situation.[Translation by ZENIT]
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2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity materials: www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20120611_week-prayer-2013_en.html