Monday, 16 February 2015

Pope Francis and Ecumenism of Blood

I have been very interested in Pope Francis' recent use of the term "ecumenism of blood".

When he spoke to leaders of Christian communities during his visit to Cologne for World Youth Day in 2005, it was Pope Benedict's suggestion that we should not take so much for granted the commonality of witness, founded in Baptism, that struck me:
I feel the fact that we consider one another brothers and sisters, that we love one another, that together we are witnesses of Jesus Christ, should not be taken so much for granted. I believe that this brotherhood is in itself a very important fruit of dialogue that we must rejoice in, continue to foster and to practice.
Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. As you just said, Bishop, it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us all members of the one Body of Christ (cf. I Cor 12: 13; Gal 3: 28; Col 2: 12).
Together we confess that Jesus Christ is God and Lord; together we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and man (cf. I Tm 2: 5), and we emphasize that together we are members of his Body (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22; Ut Unum Sint, n. 42).
Based on this essential foundation of Baptism, a reality comes from him which is a way of being, then of professing, believing and acting. Based on this crucial foundation, dialogue has borne its fruits and will continue to do so.
And I have long been struck by a perhaps little known passage from Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Ut Unum sint (n.84). That passage suggests that, at the moment of martyrdom, Christian unity is lived in its fullness. It has opened up, to my thinking at least, the possibility that Christian martyrs from communities other than the Catholic Church can be recognised as saints by the Catholic Church:
I have already remarked, and with deep joy, how an imperfect but real communion is preserved and is growing at many levels of ecclesial life. I now add that this communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings near those who once were far off (cf. Eph 2:13).
So when Pope Francis speaks of an "ecumenism of blood", as he has done again today, he draws our attention to the profoundly ecumenical implication of the martyrdoms that have been experienced in recent days and months. All Christians, irrespective of denomination or Church adherence, are living these martyrdoms as a shared, a common experience. Pope Francis' words remind those of us who are at a physical distance from these events that we too should live them in the same way. They also say to the Christian communities most immediately affected that we too share in their suffering.
Today I have read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. They said only: 'Jesus, help me'. They were assassinated for the mere fact of being Christians. You, Brother, in your discourse, referred to what is happening in Jesus' land. The blood of our Christian brothers is a testimony that calls to us. Regardless of whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Lutherans – this does not matter, they are Christians. And blood is the same. Their blood confesses Christ. In remembrance of these brothers of ours who have died for the mere fact of confessing Christ, I ask that we encourage each other to go ahead with this ecumenism, that is giving us strength, this ecumenism of blood. The martyrs are all Christians. Let us all pray for each other”.
To suggest that Pope Francis' words "hijack people's deaths for [an agenda]" misrepresents the Holy Father's words entirely, and does so in a most crass and ill-informed way.