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Ut Unum Sint


Pope john paul ii's twelfth encyclical, issued May 25, 1995; reaffirms the "impassioned commitment" of the Second Vatican Council for the unity of the Church. In preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation, the letter recapitulates the progress the churches have made together in the last thirty years. The text lays out specific challenges for Catholics, and it offers a very concrete openness to the renewal of the papacy in service to the unity of the churches. The 103 paragraphs of the encyclical are divided into three sections.

The first section reiterates the centrality of the quest for unity in the identity of Catholics; the importance of conversion to Christ, the Church, and its unity; and the necessity of prayer. He introduces the "martyrs of our century" as "the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended" (no. 1). In addition to resolving doctrinal divisions he also emphasizes the "purification of past memories" and the necessity "to acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity the mistakes made" (no. 2). The conversion and repentance are not only the duty of every Catholic, but also "of the bishop of Rome as the successor of the apostle Peter" (no.4). The encyclical recalls that for the Catholic Church ecumenism is "not just some sort of 'appendix"' but rather it is "an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does" (no. 20). The letter outlines the centrality of dialogue, including the dialogue of love, of truth, of conversion, and of salvation as central in Catholic relationships with other Christians and in serving the journey to full communion.

The second section recapitulates the fruits of dialogue in the last three decades, which includes both cementing the real communion that exists among Christians and among churches as well as laying the basis for the full communion for which we pray. In this section the pope discusses the solidarity in service, mission, and social action. He outlines specific developments with the churches of the East and those that have emerged from the Reformation. Pope John Paul II's own personal experience of encounters in his many trips around the globe are recounted and celebrated. In this section the pope moves beyond the conciliar designation of "separated brethren" to speak of "fellow Christians." He lifts up convergences in the sacramental life even though "it is not yet possible to celebrate together the same eucharistic liturgy." He finds it "a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able to administer the sacraments of the eucharist, penance and anointing of the sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church" (no. 45, 46).

These developments are seen not only in the context of the theological developments in the World Council of Churches and bilateral dialogues, but also in light of clarification of Catholic practice in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the 1991 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, and the 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.

The third section outlines the future: the challenge of making the results of the dialogues "a common heritage" (no. 80, 81); the continued dialogue agenda: (1) Scripture and Tradition, (2) sacraments, (3) ordination,(4) authority and (5) Mary; prayer, collaboration, and common evangelization; and his willingness to enter into a "patient and fraternal dialogue" with ecumenical partners about how to exercise the papal office in a way to better serve the unity of the Church, even before full theological agreement is reached. He ends with an exhortation to "implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm the grace to prepare ourselves" for this unity (no.102).

Bibliography: For the text of Ut unum sint, see: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 87 (1995): 921982 (Latin). Origins 25, no. 4 (8 June 1995): 4972 (English). The Pope Speaks 40 (1995): 295343 (English).

[j. gros]

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