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Bishop Brian Farrell: Quest for Christian Unity: Where It Stands

1/25/2004 - 1:00 AM PST

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Interview With Bishop Farrell, Secretary of Council for Promoting Christian Unity

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2004 (Zenit) - Impatience is a great temptation against ecumenism, says the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Bishop Brian Farrell assessed the state of the quest for full unity among the disciples of Christ.

Q: What is the present state of the search for Christian unity?

Bishop Farrell: There are lights and shadows. Significant ecumenical achievements are visible at the local level of parishes, dioceses, associations. All kinds of shared activities and cooperation are being implemented.

Generally, people are convinced that there is no turning back from the search for the unity that Christ wishes for his followers. There is a new interest in "spiritual" ecumenism, that is, in prayer for unity and in purifying the idea that communities have of one another.

Among the shadows: Some become discouraged that things take so long; it is not always easy to involve the younger generation, which has perhaps less experience of how relations between divided Christians have changed in past decades.

And then, importantly, after the various ecumenical dialogues have focused on the many things Christians have in common, we are now reaching the point when we have to face the deeper differences between the Churches, and this requires more patient and more penetrating effort. Impatience is a great temptation against ecumenism.

Q: How are relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches?

Bishop Farrell: Enormous progress has been made in recent years in improving relations and cooperation with the various Orthodox Churches individually.

With practically all of them there is regular contact and exchange of ideas. There are frequent visits of delegations -- impossible to list them all here.

There is an increasing effort to face common challenges together, especially in Europe. Unfortunately, all of this is sometimes overshadowed by the media insistence on the tensions and misunderstandings which can and do exist in some cases.

In the new situation in Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism, the Catholic presence is more visible, and this is sometimes perceived as a threat by the Orthodox. They have a wider concept of proselytism than we do in the West, and therefore tensions do arise. This is especially true in many of the events surrounding the re-emergence of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine.

Only in a fraternal love that excludes rivalry and competition, and is truly an exchange of gifts, can we overcome these serious difficulties.

Another important sign that we are making headway is the great effort which has been made on both sides to restart the international theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and all the Orthodox Churches together, stalled for the past few years. The coordinating committee of the dialogue will be convened in the near future to suggest a path forward.

Q: How are relations with the ancient Churches of the East?

Bishop Farrell: These are the Churches which remained outside the influence of the Roman Empire and developed their own specific traditions in theological and ecclesiastical matters: the Copts, the Syrian Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia, the Malankara Church. With these the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has begun a new theological dialogue.

There is also a dialogue in course with the Assyrian Church of the East. These Churches are especially present in the Middle East.

In the present situation of conflicts and divisions, the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Churches are conscious of the need to strengthen their cooperation on the pastoral and social levels. Ecumenically they tend increasingly to work together as a family of Churches.

After a preparatory meeting with representatives of these Churches here in Rome last year, the first session of the dialogue will take place this coming week in Cairo. The Holy See will be presented by Cardinal Kasper, and it is hoped that the meeting can, above all, strengthen already existing forms of cooperation and communion.

Q: How are relations with the Anglican Communion?

Bishop Farrell: As everyone knows, this past year has been particularly intense in this area.

The first visit of the new archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to the Pope was greatly successful in consolidating the special nature of Anglican-Catholic relations and in laying the ground for even more frequent and "almost institutional" contacts.

However, the internal ...

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