The resignation of Pope Benedict has called to my mind the ministry of John Paul II whose work for unity among Christians had such an impact on my life. I have been rereading his encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint, and share the following quotes as a reminder of the deep commitment of the Catholic Church to better relations among Christians. Sometimes I hear Catholics and Protestants speak as if these teachings of John Paul II, grounded explicitly in the teachings of Vatican II, did not happen. Protestants have a stake in the future of the Catholic Church because, according to Catholic teaching, we are all actually part of the same Church. And Catholics need to remember that Protestants are not “not-yet Catholics”, but have a dignity and grace as they are. And we all need to have reignited a desire for deeper unity in faith, hope and love. I hope these excerpts from John Paul II are a blessing to you as they were for me.
John Paul on the Witness of ALL Christian Martyrs:
The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church…united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.
John Paul’s expressions of humility and penance over sins:
Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. Consequently, the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord's disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the truth and by a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, are called to re-examine together their painful past and the hurt which that past regrettably continues to provoke even today. All together, they are invited by the ever fresh power of the Gospel to acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity the mistakes made and the contingent factors at work at the origins of their deplorable divisions. What is needed is a calm, clear-sighted and truthful vision of things, a vision enlivened by divine mercy and capable of freeing people's minds and of inspiring in everyone a renewed willingness, precisely with a view to proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of every people and nation…The Catholic Church acknowledges and confesses the weaknesses of her members, conscious that their sins are so many betrayals of and obstacles to the accomplishment of the Saviour's plan. Because she feels herself constantly called to be renewed in the spirit of the Gospel, she does not cease to do penance…Speaking of the lack of unity among Christians, the Decree on Ecumenism does not ignore the fact that "people of both sides were to blame", and acknowledges that responsibility cannot be attributed only to the "other side". (emphasis in original)
John Paul’s Teaching that Non-Catholic Christians are more than just “separated brethren”:
the very expression separated brethren tends to be replaced today by expressions which more readily evoke the deep communion — linked to the baptismal character — which the Spirit fosters in spite of historical and canonical divisions. Today we speak of "other Christians", "others who have received Baptism", and "Christians of other Communities"…This broadening of vocabulary is indicative of a significant change in attitudes. There is an increased awareness that we all belong to Christ…The "universal brotherhood" of Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction. Consigning to oblivion the excommunications of the past, Communities which were once rivals are now in many cases helping one another: places of worship are sometimes lent out; scholarships are offered for the training of ministers in the Communities most lacking in resources; approaches are made to civil authorities on behalf of other Christians who are unjustly persecuted; and the slander to which certain groups are subjected is shown to be unfounded…It needs be reaffirmed in this regard that acknowledging our brotherhood is not the consequence of a large-hearted philanthropy or a vague family spirit. It is rooted in recognition of the oneness of Baptism and the subsequent duty to glorify God in his work.