Vatican City, 30 October 2014 (VIS) – “A spiritual journey from encounter to friendship, from friendship to brotherhood, and from brotherhood to communion” must be embarked upon by Catholics and Old Catholics to promote unity of the Church in Christ, Pope Francis affirmed this morning as he received the members of the the Conference of Old Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Union of Utrecht, whose visit to Rome coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree “Unitatis Redintegratio” on ecumenism, which marked the beginning of a new era in the search for unity among Christ’s disciples.
In his address, the Holy Father remarked that the work carried out during the intervening years by the International Roman Catholic / Old Catholic Dialogue Commission has made it possible to “build new bridges of a more profound mutual understanding and practical co-operation. ... Convergences and consensus have been found, and differences have been better identified and set in new contexts”.
“While we rejoice whenever we take steps towards a stronger communion in faith and life, we are also saddened when we recognise that in the course of time new disagreements between us have emerged”, he continued. “The theological and ecclesiological questions that arose during our separation are now more difficult to overcome due to the increasing distance between us on matters of ministry and ethical discernment. The challenge for Catholics and Old Catholics, then, is to persevere in substantive theological dialogue and to walk together, to pray together and to work together in a deeper spirit of conversion towards all that Christ intends for his Church. In this separation there have been, on the part of both sides, grave sins and human faults. In a spirit of mutual forgiveness and humble repentance, we need now to strengthen our desire for reconciliation and peace. The path towards unity begins with a change of heart, an interior conversion. It is a spiritual journey from encounter to friendship, from friendship to brotherhood, from brotherhood to communion. Along the way, change is inevitable. We must always be willing to listen to and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth”.
“In the meantime, in the heart of Europe, which is so confused about its own identity and vocation, there are many areas in which Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in meeting the profound spiritual crisis affecting individuals and societies. There is a thirst for God. There is a profound desire to recover a sense of purpose in life. There is an urgent need for a convincing witness to the truth and values of the Gospel. In this we can support and encourage one another, especially at the level of parishes and local communities. In fact, the soul of ecumenism lies in a 'change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians'. In prayer for and with one another our differences are taken up and overcome in fidelity to the Lord and his Gospel”, Pope Francis concluded.