Within hours of the announcement that Pope Francis would meet with Lutherans in Sweden to celebrate the beginning of the fifth centenary of the Protestant reform, during the Jubilee of Mercy, the Bishop of Rome passed through the Holy Door of the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls together with representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and of the Anglican primate. The simple yet meaningful gesture was followed by a homily which in the ecumenical journey of the Church of Rome signals further advancement on a symbolic day such as the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. The Pope drew a powerful connection between this conversion and mission, which characterizes his pontificate. “I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain”. This passage from Paul’s epistle was quoted by the Pontiff, who then recalled that the First Letter of Peter addresses “members of small and fragile communities”, as if to reflect the situation of many Christians, who today not uncommonly experience persecution and the ecumenism of blood so often evoked compassionately by Pope Bergoglio.
Divisions persist between Christians and within individual confessions, but — the Pontiff emphasized — “beyond the differences that still divide us, let us recognize with joy that at the origin of Christian life there is always one call whose maker is God himself. Let us move forward on the path to a full and visible communion among Christians not only when we come closer to one another, but above all as we convert to the Lord, who out of grace chooses us and calls us to be his disciples”. But “it is not only the call that unites us; we also share one mission”. Indeed, “by walking and working together, we realize that we are already united in the name of the Lord”. Because “unity is achieved on the journey”, the Pope added, reiterating a concept that he holds dear.
In St Paul’s Basilica John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council, and shortly before its conclusion Paul VI admitted to the non-Catholic Observers that their departure produced “a solitude around us which we did not know before the Council, and which now saddens us”. In this very place the echo of the Council resounded in the Pope’s words when, on 29 September 1963, Montini resolutely opened a path in his request for forgiveness for the divisions among Christians: “Should any fault be attributable to us for this separation, let us humbly ask God for forgiveness and let us also ask forgiveness of our brothers and sisters who may have felt offended by us; and let us be ready, for our part, to forgive the offences of which the Catholic Church was the object, and to forget the pain that she bore in the long series of disagreements and separations”.
Pope Francis continued on this path, invoking “forgiveness and mercy for any behaviour on the part of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches that did not reflect the values of the Gospel”, and inviting “all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if, today or in the past, they have suffered offences from other Christians”. It is impossible to “erase what is past”, but we must not “allow the weight of past transgressions to continue to pollute our relationships”. To be sure, “the mercy of God will renew our relationships”.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 24, 2019
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