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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Pastoral Theology, University of Navarra, Spain

The common witness of Christians

Tue, 18 Jan 2011 13:10:00 +0000 Published in

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity provides an opportunity to consider some particularly topical questions: What is ecumenism? Why is the "common witness" of Christians important? What possibilities exist at "partnership ecumenical"?

1. Ecumenism" (the task in favor of Christian unity) is carried out in various forms: theological or doctrinal ("ecumenical dialogue"), between specialists; institutional, between the authorities of the Catholic Church and the different Christian confessions; spiritual, based on the prayer of Christians; pastoral or practical, with the partnership of Christians among themselves in the areas of charity, the common good, social and cultural financial aid , etc.

The last two levels correspond to all Christians. And it is important that each one of us should try to collaborate, even if we think that our contribution is only a grain of sand. 

This requires of every Christian a continuous and effective spiritual renewal, rooted in prayer and manifested in conduct. It requires stressing ethical values and exercising the virtues: understanding, patience and above all charity towards other Christians, in judgments, words and behavior; together with the humility to recognize one's own faults against unity and the disposition to reciprocal forgiveness. All this must be presided over by truth.

On the other hand, each year a topic is proposed that focuses the prayer and the ecumenical partnership . This year's - based on the proposal of an ecumenical group of Jerusalem - is: "United in the teaching of the apostles, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer" (cf. Acts 2:42).
Recalling these characteristics of the early Church of Jerusalem, today the Christians of that city struggle, in the midst of difficulties, to achieve unity beyond words, first among themselves and then with others (in Jerusalem, between Palestinians and Israelis; in other communities, justice and reconciliation in various contexts).

2. Among Benedict XVI's intentions regarding Christian unity is the common witness of Christians to the divine fatherhood (cf. Intentions for the Apostleship of Prayer, January 2011). That is, let us all together manifest, above all by our conduct, that God is our father. The loving fatherhood of God is the great novelty that Jesus Christ brought to mankind, and transmitting it to those around us is the greatest gift we can give them. For this reason it is very important that we strive to give it in deeds. And the most credible testimony of paternity is the effort to live fraternity, first among Christians, and then among all people.

On internship, this calls for: avoiding criticism and internal polemics within one's own confession (in the case of Catholics, among ourselves!); rejecting ideological polarizations and recriminations towards other Christian or ecclesial communities; omitting expressions and gestures that could hurt the feelings of other Christians; encouraging communication, information and contact with them; cultivating good relations in families, neighborhoods and environments of work, among Christians and among all.

Young people can meet with other Christians to deepen their faith, work for reconciliation - especially in some regions more prone to inter-Christian conflict - engage in prayer, study and partnership on social and cultural issues.

3. With regard to the "ecumenicalpartnership ", a Christian cannot remain indifferent to the material or spiritual needs of others. Today his contribution to salvation can be more effective if he makes it together with other Christians, because such unity is a witness to faith. In other words: the present separations among Christians are certainly a limit and an obstacle to evangelization; but the joint partnership in favor of others can be, also for Christians themselves, a gift that helps them to rediscover what unites them and to overcome the obstacles to unity, in order to mission statement that all Christians have received from God.

The possible fields of the ecumenical partnership are many and varied. Catholics can count on the Church's guidelines for the exercise of ecumenism (cf. directory for ecumenism, 25-III-1993).

a) In the biblical and liturgical sphere, through prayer and the joint celebration of the faith, in appropriate ways, for "when Christians pray together with one voice, their common witness reaches the heavens, but it is also heard on earth" (directory, n. 187).

b) In the catechetical and formative sphere, underlining the truth that unites us and explaining the differences between Christian confessions (and, beyond that, with other religions), but not in an aggressive sectarian spirit, but with love and respect.

c) In the missionary and interreligious spheres, showing that we are capable of overcoming human divisions, even in such delicate matters as religions. As a consequence, the credibility of the Gospel increases. Together with Jews, Christians must fight anti-Semitism, religious fanaticism and sectarianism (cf. directory, n. 210).

d) In the social, cultural and ethical sphere, by promoting Christian and fundamental human values (the dignity of the human person and the culture of life, religious freedom and other human rights, peace and justice); by fighting against hunger, ignorance and poverty, and by paying particular attention to the weakest (such as immigrants and refugees) without being influenced by purely ideological or political interests; by encouraging care for the earth; by promoting the Education for the critical use of the media.

e) Finally, partnership and ecumenical coordination is possible in some special situations, such as hospitals, prisons and the army, universities, large industrial complexes and the aforementioned area of social communications.

All of this can be done while providing an ecumenical training appropriate to the diverse circumstances of the people, and from agreement with the relevant religious authorities.

As far as Christian educators are concerned, "as evangelizers," Paul VI pointed out, "we must offer to Christ's faithful not the image of people divided and separated by unedifying disputes, but that of persons mature in the faith, capable of meeting one another beyond real tensions thanks to a common, sincere and disinterested search for the truth. Yes, the fate of evangelization is certainly linked to the witness of unity given by the Church. This is source a source of responsibility, but also of consolation" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 77).