Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has said that Pope Francis’ approach to ecumenism is setting him apart from his predecessors including Benedict XVI.
Francis lays more emphasis on strengthening ecumenical relationships through joint prayers, joint activities and encounters than Pope Benedict, Cardinal Koch, told the German internet portal katholisch.de on 24 August. The reason for this was the Pope’s “realistic view that theological dialogue alone will not get us any further”. Friendly relationships were an essential condition for even beginning to discuss difficult theological questions, Koch said.
The Pope wanted an evangelising Church that would take the gospel message out into the world and he “wants us [Christians] to do everything together that we can do together”.
Asked if ecumenism had the same high priority for Pope Francis as it had had for his predecessors, Koch replied, “Ecumenism has the highest priority for Pope Francis as it has had for all popes since the [Second Vatican] Council. Perhaps Pope Francis approaches it with a slightly different emphasis. He continually underlines that we cannot wait until we are one [Church]. We must work together now; we must walk along the same path, bear the same witness and pray together. Sisterliness and friendship between the different Christian Churches and church communities as well as bearing witness are very high priorities for Pope Francis.”
Asked to explain the way that “the emphases in ecumenical dialogue appeared to be shifting”, Koch replied: “Something is changing in so far as new doors for dialogue are being opened which have been closed up to now and that is most significant.” He went on to say that relations with Pentecostals were particularly important. “There were those among the Pentecostals and Evangelicals who were pretty prejudiced against the Catholic Church and the papacy,” he recalled. “If these groups meet the Pope personally and see that he is a good Christian, that can overcome many prejudices and open doors for new dialogue.”
This was particularly important as Pentecostalism has become the “second-largest reality in Christianity after the Catholic Church,” Koch said.