The Vatican witnessed an unprecedented event today as the Pope received the first delegation to ever come from the Mennonite World Conference. Benedict XVI welcomed the group which split from the Catholic Church in the 16th century and noted that they are to be commended for their longstanding witness to peace.
"The Mennonites are part of the Anabaptist tradition of the Reformation," explains a communique issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. "To use a modern term, the Mennonites could be described today as pacifists.”
“For their views on Baptism which, they feel, should be administered only to people capable of making autonomous decisions, they were subject ... to persecution in both Protestant and Catholic countries." In 1986 and 2002, the leaders of the Mennonite World Conference accepted John Paul II's invitation to participate in the meetings for peace in Assisi.
"In the ecumenical spirit of recent times, we have begun to have contacts with each other after centuries of isolation," the Pope told the Mennonite leaders in his English-language talk. "Since it is Christ Himself who calls us to seek Christian unity, it is entirely right and fitting that Mennonites and Catholics have entered into dialogue in order to understand the reasons for the conflict that arose between us in the sixteenth century. To understand is to take the first step towards healing."
"Mennonites are well known for their strong Christian witness to peace in the name of the Gospel, and here, despite centuries of division, the dialogue report 'Called Together to be Peacemakers' has shown that we hold many convictions in common. We both emphasize that our work for peace is rooted in Jesus Christ," said the Pope.
Catholics and Mennonites "both understand that 'reconciliation, non violence, and active peacemaking belong to the heart of the Gospel.' Our continuing search for the unity of the Lord's disciples is of the utmost importance. Our witness will remain impaired as long as the world sees our divisions,” Benedict remarked.
The Pope concluded his address by expressing the hope that the visit "will be another step towards mutual understanding and reconciliation."