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UNITY-FARRELL Feb-1-2007 (810 words) xxxn

Vatican ecumenist says ecumenical advances must enter church life

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- One of the chief ecumenical concerns of the Vatican today is to see that the advances achieved at the national and international levels enter fully into the life of the entire church, a top Vatican official told U.S. Catholic ecumenists Jan. 30.

Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed more than 150 Catholic ecumenists attending the National Christian Unity Workshop in Arlington Jan. 29-Feb. 1. He spoke at the luncheon of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, which is held every year during the workshop.

He said one of the top priorities being discussed by the council these days is the issue of what theologians call "reception" -- how Catholic teachings, policies and understandings developed as a result of more than 40 years of ecumenical dialogue get down into the local dioceses, parishes and pews, and how they are received as an integral part of the lived faith of pastors, teachers and people.

Bishop Farrell said he believes that Catholic ecumenism will continue to advance under Pope Benedict XVI and that the pope will make his own contributions to it.

Giving an example, he said his job at the council often involves him in arranging for visiting delegations from other churches to meet with the pope. He recalled an audience the pope had with such a group from the Lutheran World Federation.

He said one member of the delegation was a German theologian who had been deeply involved in the drafting of the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." The declaration said the two churches have reached fundamental consensus on the doctrine of justification, a central Reformation issue, but it also cited some secondary issues that still need further dialogue and development.

Bishop Farrell said that at the audience, after the exchange of remarks by the pope and the leader of the delegation, in the moment of "awkward silence" that usually ensues as the visitors are looking for cues about what comes next, the theologian spoke up and asked the pope a question about those issues not resolved in the joint declaration.

"The pope answered, and they went on for about 10 minutes," he said.

He said that after the pope was gone "I couldn't get (the delegation) out of there, I couldn't get them into the little minibus, because the conversation had sparked so many ideas in 10 minutes that they spent the rest of the afternoon working out (plans and a procedure) to follow up on these ideas."

He also told the story of an Orthodox archbishop visiting Rome. After meeting with Pope Benedict, the archbishop "said to me, 'You know, we Orthodox will always be grateful to John Paul II. He opened up every door. But he was a philosopher; we never understood him. But this man is a theologian, and when he speaks we understand.'"

"Pope Benedict ... has understood the whole (ecumenical) process, he's been a part of it from the beginning, really, after the (Second Vatican) Council," Bishop Farrell said. "He's able to contribute, and contribute at a level that will bring results."

He said that when Pope Benedict visited Turkey last fall he had dinner with members of the country's small Catholic community at the Vatican nunciature. During the dinner someone suggested that the transition to pope must have been relatively easy for him after 24 years as head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, Bishop Farrell said, and the pope responded, "It was easy to know the doctrine. It's much harder to help a billion people live it."

Bishop Farrell suggested that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has had a similar concern regarding the wealth of ecumenical advances achieved through dialogues, agreements and new ecumenical understandings at the official level. The concern for the reception of those advances throughout the church is becoming a growing priority in the council, he said.

"With time it became clear that these dialogues were not getting down into the life of the church. This has been a problem that's been around for so long," he said.

"So, notwithstanding the undeniable fruits of the dialogues, ... ecumenical dialogue remained prevalently an exchange of ideas and most of it was somewhat removed from the life of the communities," he added.

He spoke of the need for spiritual ecumenism throughout the church and the need to understand dialogue not just as an exchange of ideas but as a "mutual, unreserved giving of self."

He said those engaged in the dialogues may be willing to make that effort, but "the problem is are we as a church community ready to make the effort? This is the real question. It's clear that Pope Benedict believes in that."


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