Cardinal Koch. A Network of Friendship (Jan. 2013)


Cardinal Kurt Koch

Cardinal Koch on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (2013)
(Emphasis added)

By José Antonio Varela Vidal

VATICAN CITY, January 16, 2013 (

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins this Friday and ends a week later, on the Jan. 25 feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Every year on this occasion, Benedict XVI presides over a liturgical celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the leaders of the most important Christian Churches and communities. Their common objective is clear: to advance in unity.

Ecumenical activities are also carried out in dioceses, parishes, movements, schools and seminaries, or wherever a Christians are open to dialogue and coming together for prayer. This annual weeklong effort, which began in the 19th century at the initiative of the Anglican Communion, has found a great promoter in the Holy See, which works hand in hand with the World Council of Churches to select an annual topic and offer materials for reflection and prayer.

The entity in charge of promoting this felicitous initiative in the whole Catholic Church is the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. ZENIT talked with its prefect, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is also in charge of the important dialogue with Judaism.

Here is Part I of the interview.

ZENIT: How did the history of this Week of Prayer begin?

Cardinal Koch: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in the 19th century. It was an ecumenical initiative of the Anglicans, accepted by the Catholic Church with Pope Leo XIII. Then it became a good custom and today it’s the most important event of the year for ecumenism, because prayer for unity is the foundation of the whole ecumenical movement. Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism talks about “spiritual ecumenism,” which is at the heart of it all.

ZENIT: How many Christian Churches respond to this appeal?

Cardinal Koch: The preparation we carry out is done jointly with the World Council of Churches, and I believe many Churches and ecclesial communities engage in this prayer, but I’m not sure if everyone participates.

ZENIT: The topic this year in fact is “Walk Together.” What are the important efforts that have been made in the last years?

Cardinal Koch: After 50 years, that is, after the opening, we have been able to gather much fruit. Now we have 16 dialogues with 16 other Churches and ecclesial communities in the world. We have been able to create a network of friendship with the different Churches and ecclesial communities, which are no longer enemies but acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters. This grows essentially on the basis of baptism, which is the real foundation of everything.

ZENIT: However, it’s not yet sufficient, no?

Cardinal Koch: The mutual acceptance of baptism is the bridge of the whole ecumenical movement. Clearly after 50 years it’s not been possible to attain the objective of ecumenism, which is the visible unity of all the Christians of all the Churches.

ZENIT: Are there common elements in worship?

Cardinal Koch: I believe that on one hand there is a difference in the ecumenism with the Orthodox Churches, also the Eastern Orthodox, and on the other with the communities that were born of the Reformation. With all the Eastern Churches there is a basic foundation in the common faith, but we have a  different culture. With the communities born of the Reformation, we don’t have the same community in the faith, but we have the same culture. And this difference has very great importance in the contents of the dialogue.

ZENIT: And the same happens in the liturgy?

Cardinal Koch: For Catholics it’s possible to pray with all Christians on the basis of baptism, also with many Orthodox. I have gone to Constantinople for the feast of Saint Andrew and I have always taken part in the liturgy and been greatly welcomed by the patriarchs. On the other hand, however, there are some Orthodox who give the impression that it’s not possible to pray together with Catholics.

ZENIT: In regard to the topic of religious liberty, for which many Christians suffer, what should the attitude be in these situations?

Cardinal Koch: I think the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the religious freedom of the human person is very important. This is a great commitment with our Churches, to deepen and support religious liberty for all Christians of all countries. The challenge is very great because of the believers in the world who are being persecuted for reasons of faith, 80% are Christians.

ZENIT: Some of whom have already died or are suffering life imprisonment.

Cardinal Koch: In this connection, Blessed John Paul II spoke of an “ecumenism of martyrs.” For me this is a very profound idea, because all the ecclesial communities have their own martyrs. Martyrdom is already living — in John Paul II’s words — a “full communion,” and we on earth not yet … So the prayer of the martyrs in Heaven can help to deepen unity and ecumenism on earth.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Cardinal Koch on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

ZENIT: The issue that worries many is new changes decided in the Anglican Communion.

Cardinal Koch: There is something that is clear. Our objective for unity is unity in the faith, in the sacraments and in the ministries, and if the Anglicans change everything in the ministry, this becomes a great challenge even for us. These developments are causing much tension within the Anglican Communion, and we want, we need, to help to recover Anglican unity, but only if the Anglicans want our help.

ZENIT: Another aspect that calls attention is the strong secularization in Europe and in other places. Are studies being made on how Christians will respond to these currents, which annul and erase God from public life?

Cardinal Koch: In the first place, Christians in Europe must take into account their responsibility in this development as, after the Reformation, we had the schism, the division, and after the division there have been many confessional wars. I would say that these wars and situations have made religion in Europe no longer the foundation of unity in the society, but the root of all the conflicts. In this connection, modern society has had to find a new basis for its unity, independent of religion.

ZENIT: What you are saying explains many things today.

Cardinal Koch: The flip side would be that, if Christianity wants to help to rediscover the religious and transcendent dimension in European society, it must rediscover its unity. Ecumenism is now a great challenge for the very secularized situation Europe is living, given that only a common voice from Christians — with Christian values — will help to rediscover those values which are fundamental in Europe’s history.

ZENIT: And what response has the Catholic Church’s push for a New Evangelization received from the other groups?

Cardinal Koch: The New Evangelization must have an ecumenical dimension, because it’s obvious that in Jesus’ priestly prayer He prayed that all would be one, so that the world would believe. The credibility of the proclamation of the Gospel depends on the unity of the Church. I have many ecumenical counterparts who are happy with this initiative, however, there are still some who aren’t. It’s very important to encourage all ecumenical counterparts to reflect further on the challenge of the New Evangelization.

ZENIT: And who are the most enthusiastic?

Cardinal Koch: I must say that now there is a great division in ecumenism across the Churches. On one hand we have a liberal ecumenism between Catholics and Protestants. And on the other, there is the vision to reflect further on the foundations of the faith between the Catholic and evangelical communities. The New Evangelization is a great challenge in the latter group.

ZENIT: In what other activities is your dicastery involved?

Cardinal Koch: In the first place, in this Year of Faith, the challenge will be for ecumenism to reflect further on the foundations of the faith, because ecumenism isn’t something diplomatic or political, but refers to the faith. We need to rediscover our common faith and the confession of the Apostolic faith, and we must reflect further on ecumenism’s common objective. The second aspect is to reflect on the spiritual dimension and to discover the roots of spiritual ecumenism and of the commitment to unity.

ZENIT: Finally, what must be the attitude of the ordinary Catholic to other Christians?

Cardinal Koch: I think what Blessed John Paul II said is very important: that ecumenism is not only an exchange of ideas, but an exchange of gifts. Each of the Churches has its particular treasures in the Tradition of the faith. That’s why we mustn’t be afraid of ecumenism, because it’s an enrichment. My experience is that, with ecumenism I have become more Catholic. Because I also see the great things, the advantages of our Church, especially the great gift we have received with the papacy, with the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as center of the unity of the Church, and this is a great advantage.

ZENIT: That’s the “great objective,” no?

Cardinal Koch: Pope Pius XII said that ecumenism is an idea of the Holy Spirit. And Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, the whole world is convinced that ecumenism is a gift of the Holy Spirit and we must have an open heart for this gift, and listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to us in ecumenism’s present situation.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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