CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 August 2018

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Longing for Christian unity

he Universal Church observes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18 to 25 each year. Over the 2,000 years of Church history, it has experienced the Great Schism of the 11th century and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Christianity has taken shape in three strands: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.
 
Over the centuries, many have made tremendous efforts to promote Christian unity. For example, in 1274, Pope Gregory X pushed for reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. He convoked the Second Council of Lyon to act, among other matters, on a wish by Byzantine emperor, Michael VIII Paleologus, to reunite the eastern and western Churches. Among those present was St. Bonaventure. Regrettably, he died suddenly of illness during the council and hopes for reunification fizzled with the death of the emperor in 1297.
 
During certain periods, the Church held a doubtful, even resistant attitude towards Christian unity. For example, Pope Pius XI (1857 to 1939) issued an encyclical, Mortalium Animos (On Religious Unity), which prohibited the faithful from participating in the emerging ecumenical movement and stressed that it the Catholic Church was the one true Church.
 
It was not until the Second Vatican Council issued two decrees, Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism) and Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches) that Protestants were referred to as “separated brethren.” This open-mindedness, affirmed by the council, gave further impetus to ecumenism.
 
Greater Christian unity would mean a greater impact on society and will be beneficial to the common good. However, can all denominations to enter into the fullness of communion? 
 
Outside the Church, many societies around the world have also experienced both division and union. Many independence movements have suffered setbacks, such as in Catalonia, Northern Ireland and Quebec. Nevertheless, can models of international collaboration or coalition inspire the Church?
 
While it seems impossible for the time being to expect all Christian denominations to be in full communion, is it possible to build a much closer collaborative platform?
 
While Christians confess the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed as the basis of their belief, they still have their own adherences in other aspects. However, there is much room for collaboration and unity on such issues as environmental protection, climate, ethics, economy, labour, justice and peace. 
 
In terms of faith life, all denominations can complement on another. The mystical theology of the Orthodox Church allows us to be immersed in the sacred liturgies and the holy icons of a rich contemplative nature. The Protestants’ deep love and dedication to the bible, as well as their attempts to adopt an open approach in Church governance to allow greater participation of laity is as further example. What enlightenment can these give us Catholics?
 
Last year we observed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and, apart from the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, local Churches also co-promoted theological dialogues and the formation of laypeople. 
 
To achieve unity, it is important that we renew ourselves and remain open to the Holy Spirit who can lead us forward. SE