Assessment of the pope’s ecumenism

Source: FSSPX News


Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, maronite Patriarch of Antioch, has intervened on the subject of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue during the pontificate of John Paul II, at the meeting of cardinals, patriarchs and presidents of bishops conferences in Rome, from October 15 to 18. It should be remembered that the new cardinal, resident in Lebanon, has often shown courage in denouncing the occupation of his country by Syria or the tensions with Israel. Naturally this situation causes him special concern, regarding relations with Islam and Judaism. This is why he sees, in this distorted ecumenism, introduced by the council and by the present pontificate, a solution to the problems in the Middle East; this is in fact a grave error, which will in no way facilitate a solution, but will do nothing more than accelerate the flight of Christians from the very places where our holy religion was born.

He paid homage to John Paul II for his encyclical Ut unum sint, on the unity of Christians, published in 1995. Furthermore he recalled the pope’s many gestures of asking pardon, stressing how the pope had “admitted the culpability of the Church in spite of certain objections and reticence expressed in some Catholic circles.” “For John Paul II, ecumenism is a definitive commitment undertaken by the Catholic Church,” added Cardinal Sfeir, as he recalled all the personal contacts with many church leaders or ecclesial communities made by the Sovereign Pontiff, at the Vatican or during his travels. “Ecumenism is an integral part of the daily ministry of John Paul II,” he stated.

Among the problems that have hampered the desire of the pope to achieve Christian unity, the maronite patriarch mentioned the question of the Petrine Ministry (the primacy of the pope, editor), quoting John Paul II: this “represents a difficulty for the majority of other Christians, whose memories are marked with certain painful recollections,” and “those for which we are responsible, I ask pardon,” adding this phrase, where the pope congratulates himself, that this problem has already “become an object of study, in course or being planned.”

In the second part of his talk, dealing - the question of inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Sfeir tackled the relation that John Paul II has had with Islam and Judaism. He recalled the pope’s many voyages to countries with sizeable Muslim communities, and the inter-religious meetings organized, on his initiative at Assisi in 1986 and 1999. The patriarch recalled how, during the course of this last day, John Paul II had stressed that “all use of religion aimed at the promotion of violence, is an abuse of religion. Religion is not, and must not become a pretext for conflict, in particular, when religious, cultural and ethnic identity coexist.”

As for the gestures the pope has made with regard to the Jews, the Lebanese cardinal cited his visit to the main synagogue in Rome in April 1986, his prayers at the Wailing Wall in March 2000, during his visit to Israel, and between the two, the “basic agreement” signed in December 1993 between the Holy See and Israel, through which diplomatic relations were established between the two States.

The patriarch did not fail, however, to evoke also, the subject of the controversies which have caused animosity between the Church and the Jews, including the affair of the Carmel at Auschwitz, which was replaced by a center for Jewish studies in 1992, the protests by Jews at the beatification process of Pius XII, and also the canonization of Edith Stein in 1998. He concluded: “John Paul II has well deserved the gratitude of both the Church and Humanity, for whom he has always traced the path to be taken, even at the price of his own health.”

At the same time, the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ECC), whose headquarters are in Geneva, shares “in the great joy of the Roman Catholic Church as it celebrates the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of John Paul II,” it said in a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper. Signed by the assistant secretary general of ECC, Georges Lemopoulos, the letter emphasized that the pope’s ministry had been “rich in the sense of its many initiatives for Christian unity, for its dialogue with other religions, for its defense of social justice and human rights.”