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Pope’s Remarks at Ecumenical Prayer Gathering

April 19th, 2008
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Following is the prepared text of Pope Benedict XVI’s
remarks at an ecumenical prayer service with Christian leaders at the
Church of St. Joseph in Yorkville, Manhattan, on April 18, as supplied
by the Vatican. I would note that the event was not what some would consider "ecumenical" in the sense that everyone is given equal time on a platform to represent his or her particular beliefs. It was a simple service, with an invocation, a couple of prayers, the Lord’s Prayer chanted together, a hymn sung, a reading from Eph. 4:1-6, and a concluding prayer and blessing. The pope was wearing his ordinary garb, not worship vestments. Only Roman Catholics were in the chancel and leading the event. Here are the pope’s remarks:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, My heart abounds with gratitude
to Almighty God — “the Father of all, who is over all and through all
and in all" (Eph 4:6) — for this blessed opportunity to gather with
you this evening in prayer. I thank Bishop Dennis Sullivan for his
cordial welcome, and I warmly greet all those in attendance
representing Christian communities throughout the United States. May
the peace of our Lord and Savior be with you all!

Through you, I express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable
work of all those engaged in ecumenism: the National Council of
Churches, Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops’
Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others.
The contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical
movement is felt throughout the world. I encourage all of you to
persevere, always relying on the grace of the risen Christ whom we
strive to serve by bringing about "the obedience of faith for the sake
of his name" (Rom 1:5).

We have just listened to the scriptural passage in which Paul — a
"prisoner for the Lord" — delivers his ardent appeal to the members of
the Christian community at Ephesus. "I beg you," he writes, "to lead a
life worthy of the calling to which you have been called … eager to
maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3).
Then, after his impassioned litany of unity, Paul reminds his hearers
that Jesus, having ascended into heaven, has bestowed upon men and
women all the gifts necessary for building up the Body of Christ (cf.
Eph 4:11-13).

Paul’s exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words
instill in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our
quest for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness
to the "one heart and mind" (Acts 4:32), which has always been the
distinguishing trait of Christian koinonia (cf.
Acts 2:42), and the force drawing others to join the community of
believers so that they too might come to share in the "unsearchable
riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8; cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14).

Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one
hand, there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and
interdependency between peoples even when — geographically and
culturally speaking — they are far apart. This new situation offers
the potential for enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared
responsibility for the well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we
cannot deny that the rapid changes occurring in our world also present
some disturbing signs of fragmentation and a retreat into
individualism. The expanding use of electronic communications has in
some cases paradoxically resulted in greater isolation. Many people –
including the young — are seeking therefore more authentic forms of
community. Also of grave concern is the spread of a secularist ideology
that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth. The very
possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is
often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in
academia, the mass media and public debate. For these reasons, a
faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever. Christians are
challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold (cf. 1
Pet 3:15).

Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the
splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about
the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices
are sometimes changed within communities by so-called "prophetic
actions" that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the
datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the
attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function
according to the idea of "local options". Somewhere in this process the
need for diachronic koinonia – communion
with the Church in every age — is lost, just at the time when the
world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to
the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).

Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity
of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the Trinitarian God. In
John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his
disciples might be one, "just as you are in me and I am in you" (Jn
17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early
Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is
reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in
turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the
sound integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11).
Throughout the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly
called to give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts
17:16-34) and Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42). The core of their
argument was always the historical fact of Jesus’s bodily resurrection
from the tomb (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The
ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on "lofty
words" or "human wisdom" (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the
Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the
Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus of Paul’s preaching and that
of the early Church was none other than Jesus Christ, and "him
crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had to be guaranteed by
the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae — symbola
which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted
the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal
1:6-9; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).

My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has
lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether
its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to
Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which,
in alleging that science alone is “objective,” relegate religion
entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific
discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly
offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not
mean, however, that the "knowable" is limited to the empirically
verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of "personal

For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to
the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in
the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or
her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her
individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of
communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize
the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to
assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate
rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing
testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be
based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which
indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental
life of Christians today.

Only by "holding fast" to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev
2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us
in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous
testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is
the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early
Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the
"reasons for our hope", so that the eyes of all men and women of
goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor
3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ.
He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through
the mystery of his Son’s passion and death, and has called us to
proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand
of the Father, and "will come again in glory to judge the living and
the dead" (Nicene Creed).

May the word of God we have heard this evening inflame our hearts
with hope on the path to unity (cf. Lk 24:32). May this prayer service
exemplify the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio,
8); for without it, ecumenical structures, institutions and programs
would be deprived of their heart and soul. Let us give thanks to
Almighty God for the progress that has been made through the work of
his Spirit, as we acknowledge with gratitude the personal sacrifices
made by so many present and by those who have gone before us.

By following in their footsteps, and by placing our trust in God
alone, I am confident that — to borrow the words of Father Paul
Wattson — we will achieve the "oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and
oneness of love" that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ
is the one sent by the Father for the salvation of all.

I thank you all.

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Categories: Roman Catholicism
  1. April 21st, 2008 at 09:57 | #1

    Just curious: Why is this of such interest (all over the blogosphere) to Lutherans???

  2. will h
    April 22nd, 2008 at 21:31 | #2

    sometimes I feel Lutherans have a soft spot for the approval of the holy father. we feel that catholics should recognize the fullness of the apostolic secession found in grace itself, and that fullness can only come with unity in the Trinity alone. thats my understanding at least

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