CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Pope Benedict says Christians must give the world a witness to the living God.
Christian communities are challenged by the fact that many people today do not think they need God, Pope Benedict said.
"The spiritual poverty of many of our contemporaries, who no longer perceive the absence of God in their lives as a privation, represents a challenge for all Christians," the pope said Nov. 15.
Pope Benedict said authentic ecumenical prayer, dialogue and cooperation cannot ignore "the crisis of faith that vast regions of the planet are experiencing."
As well, Christians cannot ignore signs that many modern people still feel a need for some kind of spirituality, he said in a meeting with members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Efforts to reunite all Christians are an essential part of the New Evangelization, the pope said.
Every Christian must respond to that obligation to share the Gospel and to heal a divided Christianity, he said.
That involves returning "to the essential, to the heart of our faith, giving the world a witness of the living God, that is, a God who knows us and loves us and in whose gaze we live; a God who awaits the response of our love in our everyday lives."
Pope Benedict said the theological dialogues the Catholic Church is engaged in with other churches and Christian communities keep the ecumenical focus on finding unity in the faith and not simply on trying to find ways to get along better.
Cardinal Kurt Koch
"Even when one cannot see in the immediate future a possibility for the re-establishment of full communion," he said, the dialogues "allow us to become aware not only of resistance and obstacles, but also of the richness of experiences, spirituality and theological reflections that can become a stimulus for an ever-deeper witness."
The pope said Jesus' prayer that his disciples be one so the world would believe means that Christians cannot accept dividing differences as something normal.
"It is full communion in faith, sacraments and ministry that will make the present and active power of God concretely visible in the world," he said.
Opening the council's plenary meeting, Cardinal Kurt Koch, council president, told members that the division within Christianity "damages its credibility in proclaiming the Gospel."
What is at stake, he said, is the credibility of Christianity as a whole and its ability to speak to modern men and women and to influence the way they live and act.
"The ecumenical process of overcoming the division of the Church cannot help but have a consequence on the relationship modern secular culture has with religion in general and with Christianity in particular," Koch said.
Unfortunately, today, new Christian divisions are arising on the basis of differing approaches to moral and ethical questions, particularly regarding the safeguarding of human life from conception to death, he said.
The new differences are leading to a "profound change" in the ecumenical landscape where Christians see how much unites them doctrinally while they witness deepening divisions in the area of ethics.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Ecumenism and the credibility of the New Evangelization are harmed when churches cannot address current ethical problems "with one voice," he said.
At the same time, Koch said, the loss of Christian credibility in the social sphere means that one of the major voices proclaiming and defending human dignity is becoming easier and easier to silence, which places all human beings at risk.
"Where God is eliminated from social life, there is also a strong risk that human dignity will be trampled," he said, pointing to the example of the "mass exterminations" carried out by the Nazis and the Soviets.
"The symptoms of this danger are tangible in our societies," Koch said.
"In particular, one sees a strong loss of respect for life, both at the end and the beginning of its existence, directly tied to the disappearance of an awareness of God in the public sphere."
The cardinal cited an Austrian theologian who wrote that in modern Europe, laws give greater protection to objects than to human beings and that one should wish for the good fortune of "coming into the world as a car."
Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, a member of the council, called for the "rediscovery of the religious roots of morality."
That task has an ecumenical dimension because it begins with professing the belief that each human being was created in God's image and that the dignity of human life was fully revealed in Christ's becoming human, Shevchuk told Catholic News Service.
While secularization places challenges before the Church, the real danger is "the secularization of the Church" itself, he said.
That process begins very concretely with Church members living and acting as if they aren't Church members, Shevchuk said.