Ecumenism is taking great steps forward, thanks in part to a pontiff such as Benedict XVI, who is reforming the Church in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, says Archbishop Bruno Forte.
The archbishop of Chieti-Vasto recently made his five-yearly "ad limina" visit to the Holy Father, together with the other bishops of the Italian regions of Abruzzi and Molise. During his time in Rome, ZENIT spoke with about ecumenism, as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is under way.
ZENIT: Can instruments such as the ordinariates, established by the Holy Father for the reintegration of Anglicans, be a solution for other non-Catholic communities?
Archbishop Forte: Underlying this is an intuition of John Paul II who, in Ut unum sint, declared himself disposed to review the exercise of the primacy, so that it could be accepted by baptized persons of other Christian traditions. The idea is that there is a need to distinguish between the content of theological truth of the unity of the Church, entrusted to the Bishop of Rome, and the way it is exercised, which of course can be different as historical experience demonstrates.
There can be a spirit of unity that has made the Latin Church mature and there can be a spirit of unity as that which links the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Holy See. Moreover, there can be other ways such as the experimental form of the ordinariate for Anglicans. The formula of the ordinariate could be useful for those Anglicans who are particularly attached to the specifics of the Anglican tradition in the liturgy, in the way of prayer, without compromising, because of this, the full doctrinal and pastoral communion with the Church of Rome. Hence, we must be open to a plurality of possibilities, that is, to a communion that is realized, as for the Anglicans, in a simple and full communion with the Catholic Church, without reneging the good received in the Anglican Communion but bringing this good to fulfillment in the Catholic Church. There could be Anglicans who wish to find a communion with Rome that passes through a visible retaining of some elements that are characteristic of their identity and tradition. With his choices, Benedict XVI has shown that he is open to all possibilities, supporting them and encouraging them so that Jesus' prayer for Christian unity is realized.
ZENIT: How can Benedict XVI’s ecumenical successes be explained?
Archbishop Forte: In answering this question the Pope would say that if there are successes, they are solely the work of the Holy Spirit and that what has been attained is still probably too little in relation to what the Lord expects from his Church. This is one of his characteristics as a man of faith who sees things in the ultimate horizon and never exalts too much the goals attained to date. In other words, there is still so much to do. Ecumenism is still a great promise and a great call, in certain aspects also a great challenge. The worst temptation would be discouragement, to think that this unity can never be attained. Therefore, the Pope calls to react with great trust in God's work and in his will. The opposite temptation could be to hasten unity at all costs with steps that could be justified more by conciliation than by obedience to the truth. On this point, Benedict XVI puts us on guard: unity can only be built in truth. Moreover, Christian unity is inseparable from truth, hence unity-truth-charity are the three poles of a sole path that holds them together.
ZENIT: And what value has the attempt of reconciliation with the Society of Saint Pius X?
Archbishop Forte: Also in regard to this Pope Benedict has shown great charity and great openness. Summorum Pontificum and its applicative norms make it possible for someone who, in a manner open to Catholic fullness, wishes to live what has been the liturgical patrimony of the past. Personally, I am convinced that Vatican II's liturgy is truly rich and "traditional"; hence, I don’t understand how these nostalgias can ever be born; however, they exist, and the Pope has shown great respect and acceptance. However, there is an inalienable point on which the community founded by Archbishop Lefebvre will have to measure itself: the full and convinced acceptance of Vatican II in its doctrinal contents. The rejection of the Council is not the rejection of an individual moment of the life of the Church: its acceptance is an integral part of the acceptance of the Catholic Church as a whole.
ZENIT: How is ecumenical dialogue being lived at the diocesan and parish level?
Archbishop Forte: Ecumenism certainly entered the Catholic Church as something essential. Of course, every community lives it in a different way: there are churches that must confront Orthodox and Evangelicals daily on their terrain, and others that live this reality less. There are, however, basic principles that are followed by all. In my opinion, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, for example, will always be valued. Also in youth and adult ministries and in catechesis increasing importance is attributed to the prayer for unity.
In my diocese of Chieti-Vasto, there being many Orthodox, I have adhered to a request of Metropolitan Dervos, entrusting a church to an Orthodox parish priest. In an Adventist community, the pastor came to receive me with moving attention and love, inviting me later to talk to their theological faculty in Florence, on the Word of God. At the lived level, the ecumenical experiences are very serene: the same is true for the Waldensian communities, which have been in our midst for centuries.
There are only some fundamentalist communities, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, with whom no dialogue is possible because they don’t want it and flee from it, especially if they have before them persons with a good Christian formation. In that case, it's the maturation of Christian life that must be more eloquent than any word. I see, for example, that in some parishes one witnesses the return of many former Jehovah's Witnesses or their outright conversion. When, on the occasion of a pre-marital course, I asked former Jehovah's Witnesses why they returned, the answer was: "Because we feel free in the Church." The Christian God is not a God who scares us or imposes his will, but he is a God who calls us with bonds of love, and this gives much joy.
The pope Benedict XVI and the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - Photo: www.dici.org
ZENIT: What is the profound significance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year?
Archbishop Forte: This year the subject of the prayer for Christian unity is based on a phrase of the Book of the prophet Micah: "With what shall I come before the Lord?" (Micah 6:6-8). The foundation of this reflection, chosen by a mixed commission of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, is the will to realize what the Lord wants for us. There are three fundamental indications: the first is the indication of piety, the Lord asks mercy of his own. Piety is that profound attitude of abandonment in God and entrustment to his absolute primacy. Micah asks that this primacy of the Lord be recognized as source and reference of all our choices. This point is the essential idea on which the Pontiff insists so much. In Micah entrustment to mercy is the sign of the continual search to measure oneself on the will of God.
In the second place, there is justice. As ecumenical commentaries show, justice is also understood in its strongly social dimension. The rights of the poor and the weak are recognized. Often cooperation in the service of the poor and achieving justice is possible, where doctrinal communion can't be carried forward, because the instruments are lacking.
Finally humility: we are not the protagonists of unity: it comes from God and what is asked of us above all is to invoke the work of God. I think that without humility it will never be possible to realize the unity the Lord asks for. This is why Micah's text becomes an important ecumenical program, especially at a time when some talk of an "ecumenical winter," when instead there is need to look with eyes of faith, because, on the eve of spring, the seed is dying to give its fruit.