Ecumenical advocate reappointed to papal ecumenical commission

Pope Francis recently confirmed Dr. Eva- Maria Faber as advisor to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. She is professor for dogmatic and fundamental theology at the School of Theology in Chur, Switzerland. Pray Tell is happy to reprint this interview she recently gave.

Eva-Maria Faber, you have been confirmed as advisor to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Can you briefly describe this papal council?

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity is a complicated structure. It brings together c. 15 various dialogues, including even the dialogue with Judaism. Widely varying topics and concerns from these dialogues are presented at the plenary sessions. At the last plenary session, for example, the primary topic was engagement with the pentecostalist movement and charismatic and evangelical currents.

So where does the development of ecumenism stand, with an eye toward the worldwide situation?

The churches in various places are not everywhere equally affected, and they are not all equally experienced in ecumenical work. This makes the whole thing complex, and at times discouraging.

When it has become difficult at times, I have motivated myself by this: the work is worth it if, at the very least, it prevents the clock from being turned back.

It is a low point in the discussions for me whenever problems in other churches are pointed out without apparent readiness to look at one’s own problems.

What has encouraged you in the past five years?

The opening of the Jubilee of the Reformation in Lund was a highlight. The Lutheran Church was prepared to invite the pope to this opening; the pope was prepared to coming to this opening! It was possible in the first place to express gratitude together for the achievements of the Reformation, and it was possible to lament together the split in the church.

Anyone such as you who has been involved for years in such a working group brings passions to the work. Divulge to us two of yours.

My first concern has to do with the Second Vatican Council. The document Unitatis Redintegratio admonishes that we first ask ourselves where renewal is needed (no. 4). But this is still underemphasized, unfortunately. Alongside the dialogues, which are very important, it is important truly to recognize ecumenism as a priority. Pope John Paul II wrote in Ut unum sint (no. 20) that ecumenism isn’t just some sort of afterthought! Ecumenism is to be seen as a point of orientation for the churches’ activities, also within themselves. Many intra-ecclesial stumbling blocks turn out also to be ecumenical hindrances.

For me, topics such as repentance and renewal count among the most important points of ecumenical work in this regard. In short, ecumenism has to become concrete!

The confirmation document from Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin

My second concern also has to do with concretization.

We struggle with naming the goals of ecumenism. Because our viewpoint is fixated upon the ultimate goal we remain stuck, for we cannot see in advance where the path leads. Here we need intermediate steps, particularly in the conviction that the Christian churches are irrevocably tied to one another.

Even if a completely reconciled future still eludes us, we can and must take steps based upon this future.

Let us turn from the head to the heart. What comes spontaneously into your consciousness when you look back at the emotional level?

In these years I have come to know many wonderful people who are engaged with all their heart – in various church traditions and from various countries. We have laughed together and we have cried together. That the split is painful is not merely an emphatic manner of speaking.

We have endured tensions that cut across church traditions, and we have experienced with trembling bodies how such tensions are deescalated. Such concrete encounters make it increasingly unbearable for me that things do not move forward more quickly, that we are not capable of taking concrete steps.

 Interview: Arnold Landtwing. Translation: Anthony Ruff OSB. Reprinted with permission of Katholische Kirche im Kanton Zürich, with kind thanks to Mr. Arnold Landtwing.


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