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The Catholic Church can take pride in the accomplishments that have been made in this quest for unity. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Catholics are the “new kids on the block” with regard to ecumenism. At first the Catholic Church mistrusted any such effort:

“There is only one way in which the unity of Christians may be fostered,” wrote Pope Pius XI in 1928, “and that is by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it; for from that one true Church they have in the past unhappily fallen away.”

On 30 May 1995, Pope John Paul II exemplified the evolution of Catholic thought when he issued a new call for Christian unity in his encyclical “Ut Unum Sint”:

“The commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the truth and by a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, are called to reexamine together their painful past and the hurt that the past regrettably continues to provoke even today.”

Dialogues of Charity and Truth. With Vatican II came a refined understanding of “church” that included not only the Catholic Church, but all who professed the name of Christ. It was with this new understanding of church that the Catholic Church embarked on a quest for unity. The journey was to be undertaken on two paths: a dialogue of charity and a dialogue of truth.

The dialogue of truth is the interchange that takes place between theologians as they attempt to clarify and reconcile the doctrinal differences that have arisen during the past 1500 years. This dialogue of truth, however, must be preceded by and based upon a dialogue of charity, which is simply a reversal of the process of alienation that has occurred for centuries.

CNEWA, in its efforts to support all the Eastern churches, Catholic and Orthodox, is intimately involved in this dialogue of charity.

Like any healing process, the quest for unity is painfully slow and difficult to measure. It is a journey marred by setbacks and disappointments. We are, nevertheless, confident that the Lord who has begun the good work will see it through to completion (Phil. 1:6). Success in the dialogue of charity does not take the form of a signed agreement between church leaders. Rather the dialogue of charity achieves its goal when Eastern Christians live in a renewed atmosphere of love and trust.

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Maronite Chorbishop John D. Faris is CNEWA’s Assistant Secretary General.

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Tags: Catholic Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Church history