The history of the ecumenical movement has been written about in this space many times, so it is not necessary to repeat them now. For my Catholic community worldwide, the ecumenical movement was largely birthed at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-65).
There has indeed been much progress; there is much to go.
The ecumenical discussion today seems to concentrate on the Western Church Tradition, namely between Roman Catholics and Protestants and Evangelicals. However, a truly big ecumenical picture needs to include the search for unity with the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Much progress has been made here, too. As a member of one of the Eastern Catholic Churches (the Maronite Catholic Community), I am sensitive to this aspect of the ecumenical adventure. I am always willing to engage in dialog in this area.
The search for Christian unity can be frustrating. Even those at the highest level of ecumenical conversation know this. However, our world today challenges us to look for other real ways to bring us together. Pope Francis has spoken on several occasions of “three ecumenisms” worth pondering. In his recent meeting with the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Francis recalled that shed blood unites the Christian martyrs of every denomination, and he proposed the “poor” and “mission” as paths that are immediately practicable.
• Francis has mentioned many times that churches, despite their divisions, conflicts and doctrinal controversies, are already united by martyrdom and persecution in an “ecumenism of blood,” in which persecutors tragically make no distinction when attacking believers in Christ and their places of prayer.
• The Pope also recalled Angelo Roncalli, the former Pope (now Saint) John XXIII, who invited all “to journey and act together in order to bear witness to the Lord, particularly by serving the poorest and most neglected of our brothers and sisters, in whom he is present.” This is “the ecumenism of the poor.” The Gospel can be witnessed together alongside suffering regardless of top-level dialogues and theological differences.
• The third ecumenism is linked to mission. People can walk together trying to proclaim the Gospel. The Pope particularly insisted on young people: “How important it is, while respecting our own traditions and distinctive identities, to help one another to find ways of passing on the faith in language and forms that allow young people to experience the joy of a God who loves them and calls them!”
The dialogue of theologians, the way to clarify the still-open questions – which, in the case of the Orthodox, do not touch the essential elements of faith and the sacraments — is important. But it is not enough. Above all, it risks remaining something distant, relegated to the sphere of experts. What can affect the concrete life of Christians of all different confessions living side by side, is the proposal of an ecumenism to put into practice without having to wait for answers from above, an ecumenism of witness and mission.
Thus, the unity of Christians becomes a sign of unity and peace for the world.