Encyclical calls all Catholics to work toward Christian unity, says bishop

St. Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople embrace on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica following three days of private meetings in 1995. Twenty-five years ago St. John Paul’s encyclical on ecumenism, “Ut Unum Sint,” put the papal seal of approval on a shift in the Catholic Church’s approach to the search for Christian unity. (CNS photo/Arturo Mari, L’Osservatore Romano)

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” should remind Catholics “the way of ecumenism is the way of the church” and they are “called to espouse a strong commitment to building Christian unity,” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said May 25.

“Pope St. John Paul II, who worked tirelessly to build ecumenical relationships, described the impulse of working for unity between Christians as ‘a duty of Christian conscience enlightened by faith and guided by love,'” said the bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

In the encyclical, issued May 25, 1995, St. John Paul reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s “irrevocable” commitment to working and praying for Christian unity and highlighted how Christians of all denominations already are united in the experience of martyrdom.

He also called for efforts to promote a “healing of historical memories” and mutual forgiveness; asked other Christians to join a dialogue on the ministry of the bishop of Rome — the pope — in a united Christianity; and insisted that dialogue is not a negotiation, but a sharing of the gifts God has given each community.

“Ut Unum Sint” is Latin for “that they may be one.”

Bishop Bambera said: “We rejoice that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have continued to advance this singular mission between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities. We celebrate numerous theological convergences that have been discovered in ecumenical dialogues over the course of the past 25 years as we seek to grow closer together.”

He noted that St. John Paul concluded his encyclical with “a profound insight from St. Cyprian’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer: ‘God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. For God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.'”

“People seek refuge and unity in their faith community” during a pandemic, like what the world is currently experiencing, Bishop Bambera said.

“May this anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s call for Christian unity serve as a unique pastoral opportunity to build bridges by continuing to reach out with love to all of our brothers and sisters in Christ,” the bishop added. “May He heal our wounds of division and help us grow closer in unity, especially in this moment, by witnessing together to the peace of Christ that our world needs so very much.”

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