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The Year of Faith and Christian Unity

One of the principal aims of the Year of Faith is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. A milestone of the Catholic Church in modern times, it brought tremendous dynamism to the ecumenical movement in the Church while the conciliar document, Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), showed the pathway to promoting this work. 

January 18 to 25 of each year is designated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is when we pray together because “such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’” (Decree on Ecumenism, Ch. 2, 8).

The ecumenical movement has made considerable progress—the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification made by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, and dialogue with the Anglican Communion, for example. 

However, although the pace in recent years has disappointed some people, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Kurt Cardinal Koch, has used an interesting metaphor to describe the half-century of ecumenism since Vatican II. He likened it to a journey on an airplane—the flight has been cruising for 50 years and the relatively stable trip can make it seem as if things are not moving forward. He called it a good opportunity to enjoy the panorama of ecumenism out the window of the plane.

The Year of Faith puts an emphasis on conversion and charity. To implement the vision of the Decree on Ecumenism, we must strive for a renewal of the Church, a change of heart and a joining together in prayer and mutual understanding. 

Last November, Pope Benedict XVI, meeting with the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, reiterated the close ties between Christian unity and the new evangelisation. He also pointed out that in following a truly ecumenical path, we should not ignore the spiritual poverty of many of our contemporaries and the crisis of faith brought about by aggressive secularisation.

Recently, a young woman was gang-raped in New Delhi, India, and subsequently died of her injuries. In response to this and the marginalisation of God in human life, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of India and archbishop of Mumbai, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, designated January 27 as a Day of Solidarity in order to promote respect for all people in society and re-position the God at the centre of life. 

In Hong Kong, we need to consider our response to issues of spiritual poverty and secularisation in our society. The Christian attitude should be “to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Last year, the Hong Kong diocese issued two documents addressing social concerns such as housing, livelihood, family and universal suffrage and, together with the Hong Kong Christian Council issued joint responses to livelihood, education and political issues. 

To give witness to the gospel we need to persevere and have a clear objective anchored by a fundamental passion rooted in prayer. During Masses this week, let us focus our intentions on sustaining the vision for ecumenism that emerged from Vatican II 50 years ago.

The materials for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Student Christian Movement of India and speak about the difficult situations faced by the dalits (untouchables) in India. SE