.- Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed Friday his commitment to work toward Christian unity, saying that unity is God’s command and many Christians around the world expect churches to grow closer together.
During his four-day trip to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day, the Pope took the opportunity to meet with 27 representatives of different Christian churches, among them Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, Ethiopian Coptic and Romanian Orthodox.
“I am well aware that many Christians in this country, and not only in this country, expect further concrete steps to bring us closer together. I myself have the same expectation,” said the 78-year-old pontiff. “It is the Lord’s command, but also the imperative of the present hour, to carry on dialogue, with conviction, at all levels of the Church’s life.”
The themes of Christian unity and improved relations with Jews and Muslims have been ongoing in Pope Benedict’s speeches and meetings since his arrival here yesterday. He met with the Jewish community in the city’s oldest synagogue earlier Friday and was to meet with representatives of the Muslim community Saturday.
The pontiff also reaffirmed that the full visible unity of the disciples of Christ is the Church’s goal. “This does not, however, mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline,” he clarified. “Unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity…full unity and full catholicity go together.”
“As a native of this country, I am quite aware of the painful situation, which the rupture of unity in the profession of the faith has entailed for so many individuals and families,” the Pope said. This statement was a reference to the tensions that existed between German Protestants and Catholics. German Christians are about evenly split, with about half professing the Protestant faith.
“In ecumenical dialogue Germany has a place of particular importance,” the Pope continued. “Not only is it the place where the Reformation began; it is also one of those countries where the ecumenical movement of the 20th century originated.
The new dialogue, he said, has created “a renewed sense of fraternity” and more trust between Christians.
This fraternity, the Pope continued, is “grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism, which makes us members of the one Body of Christ.”
Christians must also seek uniformity in their positions on social issues, the Pope suggested. Contradictory positions of Christians on important ethical issues of the current time “are contrary to the will of Jesus and they disappoint the expectations of our contemporaries,” he stated.
The Pope said he was optimistic about Christian unity given the spiritual links that have developed between Catholics and Christians in prayer.
“Consequently, spiritual ecumenism – prayer, conversion and the sanctification of life – constitute the heart of the ecumenical movement,” he said.