Canadian bishops mark 50th anniversary of decree on ecumenism

Deborah Gyapong

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Canada's Catholic bishops examine the church's connection with other Christian churches in a document marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism.

Titled "A Church in Dialogue: Towards the Restoration of Unity among Christians," the document reviews the work of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops with various ecumenical partners including the Orthodox, the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada and others since the council.

"One of the principal gifts of the decree on ecumenism is the language it gave us to speak of other Christians and Christian Communities," said the 28-page document prepared by the bishops' Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue. "Rather than speaking of heretics or schismatics, the decree on ecumenism confirmed that all those baptized into Christ, and who believe in God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- are our brothers and sisters in Christ."

"The communities to which they belong are ecclesial communities who live in a real but incomplete communion with the Catholic Church," it said.

The dialogue between Christian communities includes a dialogue of love; a dialogue of truth and a dialogue of life, the document said. "A dialogue of love reaches in friendship past the fracturing and suspicions, to encounter other Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ," it said.

The document touches on the encounter between Blessed Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople after nine centuries of separation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. It also mentions the historical visit of the Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsay of Canterbury to the Vatican three months after the closing of Vatican II.

"However, the dialogue of love is not principally between church leaders," the document said. "Every act of kindness, every bond of friendship across denominational lines, is an example of the dialogue of love that is needed to heal our divisions."

"All Catholics are encouraged to take an active and intelligent part in the work of promoting Christian unity, beginning with a fundamental attitude of hospitality to those from whom we are divided," the document said. "We are to make the first approach to others, and to avoid expressions, judgments, and actions that are not truthful or misrepresent the faith and practice of other Christians."

Not only does a dialogue of love help Catholics learn what God is doing in other Christian communities, the bishops wrote, but also it can "lead to a re-examination of our own faithfulness to Christ's will" and to renewal in our own communities.

In the dialogue of truth, communication must be "frank and robust," the document said. "Catholic participants are expected to hold fast to the Church's teachings, presenting doctrines clearly and avoiding 'all forms of reductionism or facile agreement,'" it said, noting churches not in communion with each other have real differences.

Those in dialogue must treat each other as partners and presuppose each partner desires unity, it said.

The dialogue with a range of groups has borne fruit in the form of various statements of agreement on shared points of doctrine. "In some cases, we have discovered that due to misunderstandings and polemics in the past, we had misjudged one another," the document said. "There have been times of surprising discovery that different formulations reflect 'two different ways of looking at the same reality.'"

After Vatican II, the Catholic church found "eager ecumenical partners" among the other Christian communities in Canada. "Although early ecumenical visions were overly optimistic, the past 50 years have been a time of considerable maturation in our ecumenical quest."

The dialogue of life reveals what Christian communities are able to do to share the Christian life and mission together, including prayer, worship and spiritual life; fostering communication; sharing a common faith witness; mission and service oriented to the common good; and formation and study.

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