Ecumenism is the name given to the work within and between the various Christian denominations to overcome the divisions between Christians and the Churches to which they belong.
It finds its impetus in the prayer of Jesus for his disciples at the Last Supper - 'that they may all be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you' (John 17:21).
The ecumenical movement began in the Protestant Churches in the late 19th century and while many individual Catholics were dedicated ecumenists, ecumenism was formally embraced as an integral part of its life and mission by the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council with its decree Unitatis Redintegratio.
Since then the Catholic Church has been fully committed to the ecumenical journey. A permanent Vatican department - the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity - led by a Cardinal is responsible for coordinating the dialogues between the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. At the local level every Catholic Diocese is expected to establish an Ecumenical Commission to promote the work of ecumenism.
A high point in the Catholic Church's work for ecumenism was reached with Pope St John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint ('That they may be one') in 1995, which was hailed by all denominations as a seminal work on the centrality of ecumenism to the life and mission of the Church. Some its key statements are:
‘The Council (Vatican II) expresses the Church’s decision to take up the ecumenical task of working for Christian unity and to propose it with conviction and vigour: ‘This sacred Synod exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognise the signs of the times and to participate actively in the work of ecumenism’ (Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism paragraph 4) . . . The Catholic Church embraces with hope the commitment to ecumenism as a duty of the Christian conscience enlightened by faith and guided by love.” (n. 8)
"We proceed along the road leading to the conversion of hearts guided by love which is directed to God and, at the same time, to all our brothers and sisters, including those not in full communion with us. Love gives rise to the desire for unity. Love builds communion between individuals and between Communities. If we love one another, we strive to deepen our communion and make it perfect. Love is given to God as the perfect source of communion - the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit - that we may draw from that source the strength to build communion between individuals and Communities, or to re-establish it between Christians still divided. Love is the great undercurrent which gives life and adds vigour to the movement towards unity." (n.21)
"Thus, it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of 'appendix' which is added to the Church's traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work and consequently must pervade all that she is and does . . . This is what Pope St John XXIII believed about the unity of the Church and how he saw full Christian unity. With regard to other Christians, to the great Christian family, he observed: 'What unites us is much greater than what divides us." (n.20)
To find out about ecuemnical activity here in our own parish please click here
To go to the website of the National Council of Churches in Australia (the peak ecumenical body in our country) please click here
To find out more about ecumenism in the Diocese of Broken Bay please click here