.- Christians must not allow their divisions to keep them from working together to evangelize a world enduring a “crisis of faith,” Pope Benedict XVI told the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
The failure to do so, he said, “goes against the will of Christ, and is a scandal in the world.”
The council, which is meeting Nov. 15 –19, will address the theme of “The Importance of Ecumenism for New Evangelization.” The theme dovetails with the topic of overcoming Christian divisions, which was widely-discussed topic at last month’s synod of bishops on the New Evangelization.
Speaking in the Clementine Room of the Apostolic Palace on Nov. 15, the Pope stressed the necessity of having theological dialogue with Christians who do not hold the Catholic faith, in order to give a credible witness to Christ in a world suffering a crisis of faith and spiritual poverty.
“Even if we do not see the possibility of the restoration of full communion in the near future, (other faiths) enable us to understand the wealth of experience, spiritual life and theological reflections that become a stimulus for a deeper testimony,” the Pope said.
The aim of ecumenism is a “visible unity between divided Christians,” he told the assembly, and the Lord must be invoked to make even an imperfect unity possible.
And even if Christians’ unity is imperfect, it is still needed to evangelize a culture gone awry, especially in the Western world.
“We cannot follow a truly ecumenical path while ignoring the crisis of faith affecting vast areas of the world, including those where the proclamation of the Gospel was first accepted and where Christian life has flourished for centuries,” he told council members.
The situation has grown so bad that many people no longer regard the absence of God in their lives as a vacuum to be filled. This presents a situation all Christians must address, discovering common ground that overcomes their denominational divisions.
The essential unity of Christians needs to be emphasized in order to bear witness to God before the world. This, he said, consists in faith in the Trinity – a faith received at baptism which all Christians can profess together “in hope and charity.”
A truly ecumenical spirit, the Pope noted toward the end of his remarks, demands abandonment to the will of God in order to bring others to belief in him.
“In the final analysis,” Pope Benedict concluded, “ecumenism and new evangelization both require the dynamism of conversion, understood as the sincere desire to follow Christ and to fully adhere to the will of the Father.”
Starting on the afternoon of Nov. 17, council participants will deliberate on the work of last month’s synod and explore the progress of ecumenical work in different parts of the world.
Council president Cardinal Kurt Koch will give the opening address.
In a Nov. 13 interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Koch said he hopes the council meeting will foster Christian unity and aid evangelization efforts.
“The credibility of the message of the Gospel depends on unity,” he said. “The division of the Church in the world is the biggest obstacle to the missionary activity in the world.”
The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity was founded by Pope John XXIII during the Second Vatican Council and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011.