“The path towards unity begins with a change of heart, an interior
conversion”. Pope Francis emphasized this when he met with a delegation of
the Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference of
the Union of Utrecht. He referred to the
“increasing distance between us on matters of ministry and ethical
discernment”. The Pope also reflected on “our shared ecumenical journey” which
demonstrates the need for “convincing witness to the truth and values of
the Gospel” in a Europe which is “ so confused about its own identity and
vocation” and thirsty for God. The
following is the English text of the Holy Father’s address.

Your Grace,

Your Excellencies,

I am pleased to welcome you, the members of the Old
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Union of Utrecht, as your visit offers us a
valuable opportunity to reflect on our shared ecumenical journey.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation
of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree Unitatis
Redintegratio
, which inaugurated a new era of ecumenical dialogue and
expressed the enduring commitment of the Catholic Church to seek the unity of
Christ’s disciples. For all of us, the International Roman Catholic/Old
Catholic Dialogue Commission plays a significant role in seeking ever greater
fidelity to the Lord’s prayer, “that all may be one” (cf. Jn 17:21). It has been possible to build new bridges of a
more profound mutual understanding and practical co-operation. Convergences and consensus have been found,
and differences have been better identified and set in new contexts.

While we rejoice whenever we take steps towards a
stronger communion in faith and life, we are also saddened when we recognize
that in the course of time new disagreements between us have emerged. The
theological and ecclesiological questions that arose during our separation are
now more difficult to overcome due to the increasing distance between us on
matters of ministry and ethical discernment.

The challenge for Catholics and Old Catholics, then,
is to persevere in substantive theological dialogue and to walk together, to
pray together and to work together in a deeper spirit of conversion towards all
that Christ intends for his Church. In
this separation there have been, on the part of both sides, grave sins and
human faults. In a spirit of mutual forgiveness and humble repentance, we need
now to strengthen our desire for reconciliation and peace. The path towards unity begins with a change of heart, an
interior conversion (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 4). It is a spiritual journey from encounter to
friendship, from friendship to brotherhood, from brotherhood to
communion. Along the way, change is inevitable. We must always be
willing to listen to and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit who leads us
into all truth (cf. Jn
16:13).

In the meantime, in the heart of Europe, which is so
confused about its own identity and vocation, there are many areas in which
Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in meeting the profound
spiritual crisis affecting individuals and societies. There is a thirst for
God. There is a profound desire to
recover a sense of purpose in life. There is an urgent need for a convincing witness
to the truth and values of the Gospel.
In this we can support and encourage one another, especially at the
level of parishes and local communities. In fact, the soul of ecumenism lies in
a “change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer
for the unity of Christians” (Unitatis
Redintegratio
, 8). In prayer for and with one another our differences are
taken up and overcome in fidelity to the Lord and his Gospel.

I am always aware that “the holy task of reconciling
all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends
human energies and abilities” (Ibid,
24). Our hope is rooted in the prayer of Christ himself for the Church.
Let us immerse ourselves evermore in that prayer so that our efforts may always
be sustained and guided by divine grace. 

Source: Vatican News