Here is a translation of Pope Francis’ address this afternoon to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity:
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Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am happy to meet with you on the occasion of your Plenary Session, which is addressing the theme “Christian Unity: What Model of Full Communion?” I thank Cardinal Koch for the words he addressed to me in the name of you all.
In the course of this year, I had the opportunity to live many significant ecumenical meetings, be it in Rome, be it during trips. Each one of these meetings was for me a source of consolation, because I was able to see that the desire for communion is alive and intense. In as much as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, aware of the responsibility entrusted to me by the Lord, I wish to confirm that Christian unity is one of my main concerns, and I pray that it will be increasingly shared by every baptized person.
Christian unity is an essential exigency of our faith, an exigency that flows from the depth of our being believers in Jesus Christ. We invoke unity because we invoke Christ. We want to live unity, because we want to follow Christ, to live His love, to enjoy the mystery of His being one with the Father, which is, then, the essence of divine love. In the Holy Spirit, Jesus Himself associates us to His prayer: “as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us […] I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me […] that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them”(John 17:21.23.26). According to Jesus’ priestly prayer, what we yearn for is unity in the love of the Father, who comes to us offered in Jesus Christ, a love that also informs thought and doctrines. It is not enough to be in agreement in the understanding of the Gospel, but all of us believers must be united to Christ and in Christ. It is our personal and communal conversion, a gradual conformation to Him (cf. Romans 8:28), our living ever more in Him (cf. Galatians 2:20), which enables us to grow in communion among ourselves. This is also the spirit that sustains the study sessions and every other sort of effort to come to closer points of view.
Having this well in mind, it is possible to unmask certain false models of communion that in reality do not lead to unity but contradict it in its essence.
First of all, unity is not the fruit of our human efforts or the product built by ecclesiastical diplomacy, but it is a gift that comes from on high. We men are not able to achieve unity by ourselves, nor can we discern the ways and times. What, then, is our role? What must we do to promote Christian unity? Our task is to receive this gift and make it visible to all. From this point of view, unity, before being a goal, is a path, with its roadmaps and its rhythms, its slowing down and its acceleration, and also its pauses. As a path, unity requires patient expectations, tenacity, effort and commitment; it does not annul conflicts and does not cancel contrasts, rather, at times it can expose to the risk of new misunderstandings. Unity can be accepted only by one who decides to set out on the path to a goal that today might seem rather distant. However, he who follows this way is comforted by the continual experience of a communion joyfully perceived, even if not yet fully attained, every time that presumption is set aside and we all recognize ourselves in need of God’s love. And what bond unites all of us Christians more than the experience of being sinners but at the same time object of God’s infinite mercy revealed to us by Jesus Christ? Likewise, unity of love is already a reality when those whom God has chosen and called to form His people proclaim together the wonders that He has done for them, above all by offering a testimony of life full of charity to all (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10). Therefore, I love to repeat that unity is done walking, to remind that when we walk together, we collaborate together in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the service to the least we are already united. All the theological and ecclesiological differences that still divide Christians will only be surmounted along this way, without us knowing today how and when, but that it will happen according to what the Holy Spirit will suggest for the good of the Church.
In the second place, unity is not uniformity. The different theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical differences, which have developed in the Christian world, when they are genuinely rooted in the Apostolic Tradition, are a richness and not a threat to the unity of the Church. To seek to do away with such diversity is to go against the Holy Spirit, who acts by enriching the community of believers with a variety of gifts. In the course of history, there have been attempts of this nature, with consequences that sometimes have caused suffering even today. If instead we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become conflict, because He drives us to live the variety in the communion of the Church. It is an ecumenical task to respect legitimate differences and to lead to surmount the irreconcilable differences with the unity that God requests. The continuation of such differences must not paralyze us, but push us to seek together the way to address such obstacles successfully.
Finally, unity is not absorption. Christian unity does not imply an ecumenism “in reverse,” by which some might deny their own history of faith; nor does it tolerate proselytism, which is, rather, a poison for the ecumenical path. Before seeing what separates us, we should perceive also in an essential way, the richness of what unites us, such as Sacred Scripture and the great professions of faith of the first Ecumenical Councils. By doing so, we Christians can recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters who believe in the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, committed together to seek the way to obey today the Word of God that wills us united. Ecumenism is true when it is able to move our attention away from ourselves, from our argumentations and formulations, to the Word of God which exacts being listened to, received and witnessed in the world. Therefore, the various Christian communities are called not to “concur,” but to collaborate. My recent visit to Lund reminded me of how timely is the ecumenical principle formulated there by the World Council of the Churches already in 1952, which recommends to Christians “to do all things together, except in those cases in which the profound difficulties of convictions imposed to act separately.”
I thank you for your commitment. I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and I trust in yours for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you.[Original Text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]