.- The person of Jesus Christ should give all Christians hope that historic divisions can be overcome, says a top official at the Vatican department responsible for promoting Christian unity.
âI think we have to start with theological hope and itâs the prayer of Christ himself that really grounds all the other hopes that we might have,â said Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in a Jan. 17 interview with CNA.
âIf we participate in the prayer of Christ, who at the Last Supper prayed that all his disciples might be one so that the world would believe, then we have to be convinced that the Church is not able to fulfill its mission because of the sin of division,â he said.
Bishop Farrell, who hails from Ireland, is one of the primary coordinators of the Vaticanâs annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This yearâs week of prayer began Jan. 16 and will be marked by over 300 churches and Christian communities around the world.
In Rome, Bishop Farrellâs department has lined up a series of events that culminate in solemn vespers at the papal basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls on Jan. 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI will lead the service and be joined in prayer by representatives of other Christian bodies.
Their basic aim, the bishop explained, is to break through âthe old polemics and controversies and prejudicesâ and to heal âsome of the sad memories of history,â so that âa new brotherhood of Christians can come aboutâ where âwe can rediscover ourselves as disciples of the Lord together.â
The cornerstone of all they do must be prayer, he says, because âwe canât build Christian unity on our human effort, itâs a gift and witnesses to the victory of Christ.â
Ecumenical Efforts Worldwide
Because of his involvement with so many Christian communities, Bishop Farrell is able to speak about ecumenical developments across of broad spectrum of belief.
He strikes a hopeful note when discussing relations with the Orthodox churches to whom, he said, the Catholic Church is âvery close theologically.â The biggest problem is a cultural one, he observed, based upon âour perception of each other.â
âSo it requires a great of reflection, study and conversation to get to the point where we really understand why we have âsuch and suchâ an idea of each other and where we stand on the fundamental faith that we have together.â
This includes discussions on âthe big questionâ â the role of the Bishop of Rome. Orthodox Christians recognize the Pope has âa special role,â but how he exercises that role is the big question, said Bishop Farrell.
He explained how much progress has already been achieved on many related issues since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), such that he now has âgreat hope that if we are patient and we work to overcome the misconceptions that we have of each other, and of each othersâ thought, that there is not too much to overcome.â
Conversely, he said, relations with the Anglican Communion have been made more difficult in recent times by their stance on âmoral questions and questions regarding life issues.â
But Bishop Farrell is not overly pessimistic. He thinks that such hurdles âmake dialogue more difficult but at the same time more intense, and we must continue.â
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paved the way for the creation of âpersonal ordinariatesâ within the Catholic Church. They are a home for former Anglicans who wish to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church.
Two ordinariates have been created since the Pope made his announcement in 2009. They are the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and Wales, and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter in the United States, which was created Jan. 1, 2012.
âWell, I think, like all things, you have to give it a chance to work itself out,â said Bishop Farrell of the Anglican ordinariates concept.
âItâs only at the very beginning and I think that Anglicans generally understand that the Catholic Church has decided to allow this, or create this ordinariate, precisely because some Anglicans have asked for it.â
âIn that sense,â he said, âit is partly ecumenical â¦ these are Anglicans who want to become Catholics.â At the same time, Bishop Farrell said, âit is no longer an ecumenical question but a question of their personal conviction.â
In recent years the cultural changes of the West have also led to a new ecumenical phenomenon of Catholics and evangelical Christians joining forces in addressing the many social and moral issues that have presented themselves.
âOn life issues, on moral issues, we are very much in harmony with them â or they with us,â said Bishop Farrell. But, he qualified, âon ecclesiological issues we are very distantâ because âwe have radically different ideas of what the Church is and how it should be organized.â
Bishops Farrell thinks that âpeople may be surprised to knowâ the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has been in âcontinuous dialogueâ with various evangelical groups, including Pentecostals, over the past 30 years.
And this dialogue has led to âsome very interesting results,â he said.
Bishop Farrell said that describing a unified Christian Church would be âvery difficultâ to do, but âtheologically speaking, one thing is certain it will have to do with the point at which we can celebrate the Eucharist together.â