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Civil rights leaders and Christians gathered this April 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail.' The Christian leaders there presented a response to Dr. King's daughter, Rev. Bernice King.
Pictured: USCCB staff members and bishops represented the Catholic membership of Christian Churches Together at the event.
Read the full text of some of the powerful speeches delivered and see news coverage on our 50th anniversary landing page.
Ecumenism, from the Greek word “oikoumene,” meaning “the whole inhabited world,” is the promotion of cooperation and unity among Christians. Jesus Christ founded one Church and, in the midst of his Passion, prayed, “That they may all be one.” (John 17:21) In fidelity to that, the Catholic Church takes part in an ecumenical movement seeking visible unity among the diversity of Christian Churches and ecclesial communities.
The Catholic Church’s ecumenical movement truly began with the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. In this document, the Council Fathers recognize that a divided Christianity is a scandal to the world and that the movement of the Holy Spirit was calling for the restoration of unity. Underlying the Catholic Church’s pursuit of ecumenism is the recognition that despite the separation, “some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3). Thus, it can even be said that the Church’s pursuit of ecumenism is another way of expressing her radical catholicity or universality.
“Some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.”
- Unitatis Redintegratio, 3
The Church’s ecumenical vision was further clarified in Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One), which recognized these elements as the imperfect realization of unity that already exists in Jesus Christ as part of the one Church of Christ. The unity of Christians is understood as the manifestation of their communion with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Ecumenical dialogue, the search for full, visible unity is thus essential to the Christian life: “This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ's mission.” (Ut Unum Sint, 9).
Practically, it is aided by the guidelines provided by Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity’s (PCPCU) pastoral Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, published in 1993.
Since joining the ecumenical movement, breakthrough agreements have been reached between Catholics and other communions including statements on Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry, and Justification.
In the midst of the Second Vatican Council, the American bishops founded the Commission for Ecumenical Affairs, as it was originally called. It quickly moved to establish bilateral dialogues with other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities. Today, the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs maintains more than a dozen ongoing ecumenical dialogues and consultations. These relationships have created major developments in understanding, such as the innovative document The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue? produced by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in 2003.
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