By Andrea Tornielli
There is the ecumenism of blood, there is the ecumenism of the poor and there is the ecumenism of mission. In his address to Patriarch Neophyte and to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, Pope Francis pointed out an immediately practicable way for the unity of Christians belonging to different confessions.
The Pope has mentioned many times that Churches, despite their atavistic divisions, conflicts and doctrinal controversies, are already united by martyrdom and persecution in the ecumenism of blood, in which persecutors make no distinction when attacking believers in Christ and their places of prayer.
Pope Francis spoke about Bulgarian Christians who “endured suffering for the name of Jesus, particularly during the persecution of the last century”. He recalled that “many other brothers and sisters of ours throughout the world” who “continue to suffer for their faith” ask “us not to remain closed, but to open ourselves, for only in this way can those seeds bear fruit”.
The Pope also recalled Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII, who was the papal representative in Bulgaria, and re-proposed his testimony, inviting Christians “to journey and act together in order to bear witness to the Lord, particularly by serving the poorest and most neglected of our brothers and sisters, in whom he is present”. It is “the ecumenism of the poor”. One can already be united, one can already walk together regardless of top-level dialogues and theological differences. The Gospel can be witnessed together alongside suffering.
The third ecumenism linked to mission and communion, following the example of Saints Cyril and Methodius, is that of mission. One can walk together trying to proclaim the Gospel. The Pope particularly insisted on young people: “How important it is, while respecting our own traditions and distinctive identities, to help one another to find ways of passing on the faith in language and forms that allow young people to experience the joy of a God who loves them and calls them!”
The dialogue of theologians, the way to clarify the still-open questions – which, in the case of the Orthodox, do not touch the essential elements of faith and the sacraments – is important. But it is not enough. Above all, it risks remaining something distant, relegated to the sphere of experts. What can affect the concrete life of Christians of different confessions living side by side, is the proposal of an ecumenism to put into practice without having to wait for answers from above. It is an ecumenism of witness and mission. Thus the unity of Christians becomes a sign of unity and peace for the world.