During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, 2021, Pope Francis called for prayers for unity at the General Audience on January 20. He spoke of the “spiritual testament” left by Christ on the eve of His Passion.
And he explained that the prayer for unity finds its source in the priestly prayer of Jesus (Jn. 17), when after the Last Supper, He prays to “the Father for us, so that we may be one.”
“Because unity is above all a gift, it is a grace to be asked for in prayer,” said Francis. “Prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement,” he continued, quoting the Second Vatican Council (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio).
The Pope also declared, without batting an eyelid,: “Christians of other confessions, with their traditions, with their history, are gifts from God,” inviting people to pray for them and, when possible, with Christians of other confessions.
What is True Catholic Ecumenism?
The only unity that the Church knows resides in the unity of faith, of worship, and of government, by which all the members of the Mystical Body are united to one another and to their head: Christ and His Vicar on earth (cf. Mt 16:18; Jn 21:16-17; Eph 4:16).
The Catholic Church, in her magisterium, condemned meetings or initiatives which would not have the unity of faith as a basis, “the disciples of Christ must be united principally by the bond of one faith” (Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Mortalium animos, January 6, 1928. See also Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Satis cognitum, June 29, 1896).
Without “one law of belief and one faith of Christians,” (Mortalium Animos), there can be no unity of the Church, nor true charity.
The Protestant vision, according to which the Church is divided into as many distinct and particular communities—just like the organization of the Orthodox Churches—ignores the true nature of the Church, a supernatural society founded by God and recognizable by its four marks: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, as affirmed in the Apostles Creed.
None of these marks can be separated from the others: “hence it happens that that Church, which truly is, and is called Catholic should at the same time shine with the prerogatives of unity, sanctity, and apostolic succession.” (Letter Apostolicæ Sedis from the Holy Office to the bishops of England, September 16, 1864, Dz. 1686).
Thus, “for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it” (Mortalium Animos). This is true Catholic ecumenism.