The 18th of January is the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As I wrote in this newsletter last year, Christian Unity is one of my passions.
I enjoy learning from Christians in the other churches, sharing our Catholic faith with them and building a sense of community. In the past year I have been blessed in being able to build a friendship with my near-neighbour, Bishop Jonathan Frost, the new Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth. You may have seen in these pages that we have already been on pilgrimage together (to Taizé) and that we have plans for exploring what our communities can do together as we, your leaders, grow in friendship. “Doing things together” is a theme that runs throughout a recent Vatican Vademecum (Handbook) that I mentioned last year, entitled “The Bishop and Christian Unity” Issued with the Pope’s personal blessing, Cardinal Koch, who heads the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, says in the introduction that it has been written to help bishops like me “better understand and fulfil (our) ecumenical responsibility”. Its key message is to remind the church that: “the bishop cannot consider the promotion of the ecumenical cause as one more task in his varied ministry, one that could and should be deferred in view of other, apparently more important, priorities.
The bishop’s ecumenical engagement is not an optional dimension of his ministry but a duty and obligation”. Whilst the wording of this direction is addressed to me and my brother bishops, I hope you can see that it actually applies to all of us. Last year I invited us to acknowledge that Christian Unity has long been viewed by many Catholics as a bit of a “side-issue” – perhaps because we haven’t given it the importance in our parishes that it demands. This year I ask you to consider on a personal level whether you have ever thought of “the ecumenical cause” as being a “non-optional dimension” of being a Catholic. If you haven’t, I want to encourage you to you think again, for we have it from the very highest authority that unity is central to the very nature of the Church. Unlike some Vatican documents, the handbook that I mentioned is both easy to read and very practical, filled with recommendations that will support this high priority. Some of the recommendations are directed at the bishop himself and talk about the structures that we should have in place to support our ecumenical work; others invite priests and their congregations to consider a range of actions to help them better engage with their Christian sisters and brothers in their local community. I cannot possibly list all the recommendations here, but our Diocesan Christian Unity Team is working to enhance our website with more content about Christian Unity with a specific intention of giving more detail about these recommendations.
I’ll let you know when it “goes live”. Meanwhile, please join with the other Christians in your community during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to celebrate what we do share – our love for Jesus and His love for all of us.