USCCB News Release
September 18, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Christian Unity A Goal, But Won't Happen Overnight, Says USCCB Official In Ecumenism, Interreligious Affairs
WASHINGTON—About 2.1 billion people claim the name Christian. These followers of Christ are divided among numerous religious groups including Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox, and even those who do not associate themselves with any one Christian group.
Father Leo Walsh, Associate Director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and interreligious Affairs, notes that all Christians are called to be one but it won’t happen tomorrow.
That in mind, he offers.
Ten Things to Know about Working for Christian Unity
- The Commandment for Christian Unity Comes from Christ Himself. On the night before he died, Christ prayed, “May they all be one…so that the world may believe.” (Jn 16:21ff) Christ prayed for it. We have to pray and work for it too.
- The Biggest Stumbling Block to the Credibility of the Gospel is a Divided Christianity. Sadly, modern society is not well disposed towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. As the world has become more secular, one of the chief arguments people use against Christians is that we simply don’t have our act together. We need to change that perception if we want to be taken seriously.
- Working for Christian Unity is Integral to the Life of the Church. The Apostle Paul constantly worked and prayed for unity in the Church. So too should today’s Catholics. In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II said: “Thus promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of "appendix" which is added to the Church's traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work and consequently pervades all that she is and does...”
- “Convergence” not “Compromise” is the Key to Christian Unity. Working for Christian unity does not mean giving up what is essential to the Catholic faith simply to get along with other Christians. Rather, it is searching for ways to express the truth of the gospel. For Christians the Truth is not a something, but a someONE, and that is Jesus the Christ. Like a wagon wheel with Christ at the center and each Christian on the spokes, in the search for truth, the closer we get to Christ, the closer we get to one another.
- Ecumenism Happens on Many Levels. Ecumenism can happen in a marriage where the spouses come from different Christian traditions or through a program between a parish and a local Orthodox, Protestant or Evangelical congregation. Or it could be on the diocesan, national, or international level.
- The First Work of Unity is Prayer. Christians can and should pray together for unity. When we join our prayers for unity to the prayer of Christ, then unity is possible. This is a sign of the real, but imperfect communion which we share in our common baptism. However, because we are not in full communion, Catholics should not receive the Eucharist in other churches and vice versa.
- The Second Work of Unity is Common Work and Witness. Working together in areas of common concern is a powerful step toward unity. What we can do together, we should do together, especially in acts of charity. Many parishes and congregations work together to run common food pantries, social service agencies, medical clinics and emergency response teams.
- The Third Work of Unity is Dialogue. Once Christians have prayed and worked together, it makes sense to explore the beliefs, practices and doctrines we hold in common. Dialogue starts with seeking to know the other and often there is more that unites than divides us. When we understand where we converge, we can begin to honestly explore the theological and practical issues that still divide us.
- Apathy and Proselytism are Opposed to Unity. We live in a privileged time. The animosities that brought about a divided Christianity are no longer present. Yet we cannot sit back and do nothing. Likewise, proselytism, or the deliberate targeting of another Christian or group of Christians for the sole purpose of getting them to reject their church to join another, is not allowed. Some people may feel called in conscience to change from one tradition to another, but “sheep stealing” is unacceptable.
- Achieving Unity is Going to Take a Long, Long Time.We have lived in a divided Christianity for almost a thousand years. Christian unity is not going to be achieved overnight. But by praying together, working together and engaging in charitable, deliberate dialogue, we can work with the Holy Spirit so that the prayer of Christ at the Last Supper, “that they all may be one…that the world may believe” will come to fruition. We have lived in a divided Christianity for almost a thousand years. Christian unity is not going to be achieved overnight. But by praying together, working together and engaging in charitable, deliberate dialogue, we can work with the Holy Spirit so that the prayer of Christ at the Last Supper, “that they all may be one…that the world may believe” will come to fruition.
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