Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras attend a prayer service in Jerusalem in January 1964, the first major meeting among Catholic and Orthodox leaders in nearly 900 years.

CNS PHOTO | GIANCARLO GIULIANI, CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO

Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras attend a prayer service in Jerusalem in January 1964, the first major meeting among Catholic and Orthodox leaders in nearly 900 years.

November 17, 2014
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, Canada's bishops have issued A Church in Dialogue: Towards the restoration of unity among Christians.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue prepared the 28-page document available at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' website.

The Decree on Ecumenism was approved at Vatican II on Nov.21, 1964.

The document examines the Church's dialogue with culture and the world, as well as dialogue among Christian communities in the 50 years since the council.

It also looks at the work the CCCB has done over the years with a range of ecumenical partners, from the Orthodox, to the Anglican Church of Canada, to the United Church of Canada and others.

PRINCIPAL GIFTS

"One of the principal gifts of the Decree on Ecumenism is the language it gave us to speak of other Christians and Christian communities," the document said.

"Rather than speaking of heretics or schismatics, the Decree on Ecumenism confirmed that all those baptized into Christ, and who believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are our brothers and sisters in Christ," and members of Christ's Body.

"The communities to which they belong are ecclesial communities who live in a real but incomplete communion with the Catholic Church," it said.

The dialogue between Christian communities includes a dialogue of love; a dialogue of truth and a dialogue of life, the document said.

The document touches on the encounter between Blessed Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople after nine centuries of separation between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches. It also mentions the historic visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsay to the Vatican three months after the closing of Vatican II.

"However, the dialogue of love is not principally between Church leaders," the document said. "Every act of kindness, every bond of friendship across denominational lines, is an example of the dialogue of love that is needed to heal our divisions."

The document encourages Catholics to adopt an attitude of hospitality with other Christians, to take the first step in ecumenical relations, and to avoid expressions or actions that misrepresent the faith and practice of other churches.

ROBUST COMMUNICATION

In the dialogue of truth, communication must be "frank and robust," the document said.

"Catholic participants are expected to hold fast to the Church's teachings, presenting doctrines clearly and avoiding 'all forms of reductionism or facile agreement,'" it said, noting churches not in communion with each other have real differences.

Those in dialogue must treat each other as partners and presuppose each partner desires unity, it said.

The dialogue with a range of groups has borne fruit in the form of various statements of agreement on shared points of doctrine.

"In some cases, we have discovered that, due to misunderstandings and polemics in the past, we had misjudged one another," the document said.

Catholics' first ecumenical hopes after Vatican II were "overly optimistic," it said. But that early optimism led to "a time of considerable maturation in our ecumenical quest."