Divisions aside, Christians must work together to evangelize, pope says

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • October 30, 2014

VATICAN CITY - Although divided by ancient disputes and new developments, Christians in Europe still have an obligation to work together to help confused men and women find the answers to their spiritual thirst and their search for life's ultimate meaning, Pope Francis said.

Meeting Oct. 30 with members of the International Old Catholic Bishops' Conference, the leadership of national churches belonging to the Union of Utrecht, Pope Francis said the challenge for Catholics and Old Catholics is to persevere in dialogue and "work together in a deeper spirit of conversion toward all that Christ intends for his church."

The Old Catholics, who continue to recognize the honorary primacy of the pope, broke with Rome in the late 1800s after the First Vatican Council defined papal primacy and infallibility. The Polish National Catholic Church left the union in 2003 after other member churches began ordaining women priests.

Pope Francis praised the progress made by the Catholic-Old Catholic ecumenical dialogue in overcoming historical differences, but he noted how, in their separation, Catholics and Old Catholics have discovered new divisions "on matters of ministry and ethical discernment," including positions on legalized abortion.

"In this separation there have been, on the part of both sides, grave sins and human faults," the pope said. "In a spirit of mutual forgiveness and humble repentance, we need now to strengthen our desire for reconciliation and peace."

As divided Christian communities continue in their spiritual journeys, he said, "change is inevitable. We must always be willing to listen to and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth."

But the focus cannot simply be on disputes internal to the Christian community, the pope said. "In the heart of Europe, which is so confused about its own identity and vocation, there are many areas in which Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in meeting the profound spiritual crisis affecting individuals and societies.

"There is a thirst for God," he said. "There is a profound desire to recover a sense of purpose in life. There is an urgent need for a convincing witness to the truth and values of the Gospel. In this we can support and encourage one another."

Communities belonging to the Union of Utrecht are found in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, France, Sweden and Denmark.

Presenting the Old Catholic bishops to Pope Francis, Archbishop Joris Vercammen of Utrecht, president of the International Old Catholic Bishops' Conference, told him that while the Old Catholics do not recognize the "universal jurisdiction" of the pope, they do see his spiritual role and his leadership within the body of bishops as extremely important.

"Our presence here today is a clear expression of our adherence to the see of Rome, to you, Holy Father, and to our ongoing commitment to the church and its catholicity worldwide," the archbishop said.

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