"Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope": Roman Catholic Perspectives for Harare and Beyond

By Houtepen, Anton | The Ecumenical Review, April 1998 | Go to article overview

"Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope": Roman Catholic Perspectives for Harare and Beyond


Houtepen, Anton, The Ecumenical Review


A common vision?

In their draft policy statement Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches (CUV), the member churches of the WCC characterize themselves as a "a people of the resurrection, proclaiming joy and confidence, in the midst of exclusion and despair, life in all its fullness".(1) The document glorifies the "one ecumenical movement, inspired and guided by God's Spirit to move us towards making visible the unity which God has given us".(2) Similarly, the theme of the forthcoming Harare assembly invites all Christians to find a common joy and hope by turning to God.

This new theocentric approach to ecumenism is not in contradiction to the WCC's former insistence on such secular issues as the struggle against racism, poverty and discrimination or, more positively, for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Nor does it detract from earlier Christocentric or pneumatological approaches to the unity of the church, such as those of Nairobi or Canberra. The theme, I think, is a clear and positive pointer to the salvific character of ecumenism as a gift of God. The Harare assembly thus makes a clear connection with the theme of the first WCC assembly at Amsterdam in 1948: "Man's Disorder and God's Design". Ecumenism is not a voluntary "good work", from which Christians or churches could desist if they wished, but a central article of faith, God's will for the church. It is God's gift to divided and unreconciled people. Human goodwill, tolerance and consensus are powerful signs and instruments of God's good will for all humanity; these things are part of the gospel of Jesus Christ and fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit of God.

For Roman Catholics the theme sounds familiar. It could be an allusion to that great constitution Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) of Vatican II, the climax of its aggiornamento and the rather forgotten "second charter" (after Unitatis Redintegratio) of Roman Catholic ecumenism. For Gaudium et Spes the goal of the ecumenical movement was not the internal convergence of the various Christian traditions and confessions as such, but rather their harmonious and non-contradictory witness about God's good will for humanity in today's world of science, technology, economics, ethics, politics, media, arts and entertainment. Such harmonious witness, aiming at solidarity and justice, joy and hope, demands serious dialogue and finding a common mind about all the issues causing controversy and injustice, fear, anger and despair in the world in which people really live -- be they religious or a-religious, Christian or Muslim, woman or man.

If we would take the ecumenical charter of Gaudium et Spes seriously, we would need agreement about such life-issues as welfare and poverty, peace and power, participation and democracy, love and lust. Thirty years after Vatican II, we still need in the ecumenical movement a common position -- a Weltethos -- with regard to the great political, ethical and scientific dilemmas of today's world. The concentration of the ecumenical dialogues of the last thirty years on the internal ecclesiastical disputes of the past -- ecclesia ad intra -- has not been integrated with the many issues of Christian responsibility in world affairs and human behaviour -- ecclesia ad extra. We badly need ecumenical dialogues in such fields as genetic engineering, fertility technology, human sexual behaviour, ecological threats, ethnic solidarity, migration policies, economic growth, the penal system (including the death penalty), and the worldwide problems of drug abuse, the drug trade and drug policies.

This question runs from Amsterdam right through to Harare: how do we understand our faith in God to be related to our ways of life and our value-systems? It is a good question -- but how can we answer it without the full participation of the whole people of God? Can the "people of the resurrection" remain divided witnesses, as they presently are, about all these aspects of human life? …

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