SASKATOON — Presenting Pope Francis with a copy of a new Canadian bishops’ document about 50 years of ecumenical dialogue was a highlight of a recent plenary gathering for Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen.
Pope Francis met with members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity during the biennial plenary in Rome, which this year was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism issued by the Second Vatican Council on Nov. 21, 1964.
“During the plenary we discussed ecumenical relations with different groupings of dialogue partners — with the Orthodox, and with the Oriental Orthodox, with main line churches of the Reformation, as well as with Evangelicals and Pentecostals,” described Bolen, who is one of the bishops serving on the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
“We had fruitful discussions, looking at where we are in those relationships, and considering how we might revitalize our dialogues in light of the Decree on Ecumenism, 50 years later,” Bolen said.
The pope then met with the members of the Pontifical Council at Casa Santa Marta, the pontifical residence, on the 50th anniversary itself.
“I used my few seconds with Pope Francis to present him a copy of The Church in Dialogue, the longer of two documents produced by the Canadian Catholic bishops of Canada to mark the anniversary,” said Bolen.
A Church in Dialogue: Towards the Restoration of Unity among Christians is a 28-page reflection published this fall to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Decree on Ecumenism. A shorter version of the document was also produced for distribution in parishes.
“The document provides an overview of Catholic principles in the work of Christian unity, gives a brief account of what has been achieved ecumenically over the past 50 years, both internationally and in Canada, and charts out ways in which the church is being led by the Holy Spirit in promoting Christian unity,” summarized Bolen.
The CCCB document was produced as a resource for those in the church working to further unity at the parish or diocesan levels, including ecumenical officers, pastors and all those interested.
“It is a resource for all who want to promote ecumenism, who want to grow and strengthen relations in our Christian communities, but who need guidance in terms of how to do so in such a way that is faithful to the church and attentive to the deep and creative stirrings of the Holy Spirit.”
The first part of the document celebrates how over the past 50 years, successive popes have increasingly talked about dialogue. The document opens with Pope Francis’ words: “When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.”
“In light of what recent popes have said, we can say that it is constitutive of the church to be in dialogue,” said Bolen. “We are called to be a church in dialogue because God has entered into redeeming life-giving dialogue with the world, and sends us forth in his name.”
“This is a dialogue with culture, a dialogue with science, a dialogue with non-believers. It is also a dialogue with other religious leaders, with other world religions, and it is our hope that a year from now there will be a complementary document released on dialogue with adherents of other religions, marking the 50th anniversary of Nostre Aetate (another Vatican II document, released on Oct. 28, 1965),” he said.
“The dialogue that the church is celebrating in a special way this year as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism, is the dialogue with other Christian churches and ecclesial communities. The document identifies principles by which we engage in such dialogue.”
The document charts out three kinds of ecumenical dialogue: the dialogue of love, the dialogue of truth, and the dialogue of life.
“Three months after the Second Vatican Council, when Pope Paul VI welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, to Rome and they launched the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, Pope Paul took his episcopal ring off his hand and put it on the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury to his amazement and great joy. That is an action of the dialogue of love, an expression of the dialogue of love,” described Bolen.
“But the dialogue of love principally takes place at the local level, where the bonds of friendship bind together Christians from different communities, where parishes and congregations discover that members of other Christian communities are their brothers and sisters in Christ, whose faith is founded in the same baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”
A major part of the document deals with the “dialogue of truth,” examining the ways in which the church has entered into formal discussions with other Christian communities — “to seek to address our differences, to name what we hold in common and to seek to make advances in terms of a common understanding of faith,” said Bolen, who has participated in such dialogues at local, national and international levels.
“My preferred image for the dialogue of truth is standing together before Christ, sharing what we believe is at the heart of our discipleship and attending to the witness of our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said. “The experience of being in ecumenical dialogues, which has been such an important experience of my life, has been a constant experience of surprise and delight as the Holy Spirit so clearly guides us to recognize elements of faith in each other. It has been an experience not only where we share our faith deeply with the other and are heard, but also an experience where we see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the dialogue partner and see areas where we can also learn from them.”
To be committed to reconciliation and unity, said Bolen, is a way “to be preoccupied with what God is preoccupied with, to yearn for what God yearns for.”
Our partners sometimes do things that we find difficult or inappropriate; we sometimes do things which they struggle with; but given what we hold in common, given the importance of witness before the world that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and given the many things that we can do together in terms of prayer and witness and mission, we are called to walk together, summarized Bolen.
“You don’t need a textbook or a theology degree to walk together, you need a listening heart, a faithfulness to your own tradition and a trust that the Holy Spirit is active and present in a special way when we walk together.”