Unity of Christians – “Ecumenism is not an option, it is our duty”, says Cardinal De Kesel

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. During this week, throughout the world, the Church prays for Christian unity. I do not think it is exaggerating to say that this prayer is not only pleasing to God but also urgent. It was Christ himself, on the eve of his passion, who prayed for the unity of his disciples. But he didn’t just pray then. He is the Risen One, the living Christ. He is still always the one who, in front of God the Father, intercedes for us and prays for us. By our prayer we only participate in his prayer.

But there is a second reason why prayer for Christian unity is so urgent. We live in a society with so many challenges. There are so many miseries in the world. There is war on our own continent, a war in which Christians are involved. There is migration and it seems very difficult to find more humane solutions. There is poverty. Also with us the number of people who barely make it to the end of the month or even who do not manage to do so, is increasing. There is global warming; we cannot just do what we want or what suits us with our land; we are not the owners but only the stewards. We must use energy sources differently. Here too the poor are threatened with even greater misery. As Pope Francis says: the cries of the earth are the cries of the poor.

It is in this society with all its challenges that the Church is called to bear witness to God’s love. Bear witness to God who in Jesus Christ loved this world to the end; of God who by the power of his Spirit is actually saving this world. We can never lose sight of this: God is present in the world and is saving it. What he began with creation, he will bring to completion. The Spirit is not only active in the hearts of Christians but also in those of all men of good will and He inspires them with acts of love and kindness, peace and humanity.

But how could we witness to all this if we ourselves are divided, we who believe in the Father, we who confess Christ as our Lord and Shepherd and who believe in the power of the Spirit who gives life? The Church is called to be a sign and sacrament of communion with God but at the same time also of the unity of all humanity. But how can it be a sign of this unity if it is itself divided? This is why our prayer for unity is so urgent.

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But for this our prayer must be authentic. Not only with lips and fine words but with the yearning of our hearts. This unity will of course not be the fruit of our own action, it can only be a gift from God. But we must believe that it is possible and let God work without obstructing Him. Otherwise our prayer has no meaning. The text that accompanies us during this week of prayer comes from the beginning of the book of Isaiah. The prophet does not put the worship in question there but he denounces its fallacious character. “Who asks you to tread my courts? Stop bringing empty offerings; I hate your incense. No matter how much you pray, I do not listen” (Is. 1,12-13.15). Very harsh words but above all a call for our prayer to be sincere. A call to pray, as Jesus said, “in spirit and truth”.

This is why it is important to recognize our division. We should be grateful to the Lord for the good understanding and friendship that reigns between us. But then there is the danger of no longer realizing that we are divided. There is of course the diversity of our different traditions and it is legitimate. But it does not justify that we see only our own identity and no longer even think of unity and, what is more, of praying for it. This is the danger of a pure confessional and identity withdrawal into oneself. Ecumenism is not an option among others, it is our duty. The worst that can happen to us would be to deny the division by minimizing it as a simple difference of traditions and customs. Let’s not pretend. But let us pray in all truth for unity and, God willing, for the visible unity of his Church.

Dear friends, as we recognize our division and indeed desire unity and pray for it, we also increasingly realize how great the unity that already exists between us is. This is precisely why he is so beautiful and why it feels so good to be here and to pray together. If we were not one in Christ, we could meet and have good contact with each other, but we could not pray together. Let our prayer be a prayer “in spirit and in truth”. May it be authentic, open and welcoming to the Spirit who does everything to lead us to unity.

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