Speaker addresses Pope Francis’s efforts to create unity
Maeve Filbin | Friday, November 3, 2017
The final installment of a three-part lecture series, “The Francis Effort: His Impact on The Church and The World,” was delivered Thursday by Susan Wood, chair of the department of theology at Marquette University. Her talk addressed five recurring themes throughout the pope’s writings, as well as the ecumenical gestures he has made over the years.
Wood said there are a number of repeating motifs throughout the Pope’s writings that relate to ecumenical relationships — namely the themes of dialogue, encounter, journey, the model of unity as a reconciled diversity and the ecumenism of blood.
The dialogue of ecumenism, Wood said, can be considered “an encounter and conversation, a speaking and a listening between partners.” Each partner speaks from his or her own perspective of the world, and offers a unique context to be considered by the receptive party, she said.
“A successful ecumenist engaged in dialogue can articulate the partner’s perspective not only so that the partner recognizes it as her own, but sometimes better than she can articulate it herself,” Wood said. “The first aim of dialogue is not to convince the partner of one’s own deeply-held convictions, but to understand another in a deep way. It is above all a spiritual experience in understanding the other, a listening and speaking to one another in love.”
Wood said dialogue is a necessary partner to doctrine, as it humanizes the often “disembodied words” or “abstract propositions” imposed on real-life situations. Applied dialogue, she said, provides more transparency and authenticity to ideology, as well as a deeper, more personal understanding between Christians. In his writings, Pope Francis urges the Church to engage in dialogue with the states, society and other believers, something Wood said is important in today’s political climate.
The Pope’s dialogic approach to ecumenism is a timely reminder of our obligation to respectful conversation, despite differing viewpoints, Wood said.
“Pope Francis comments that ‘to dialogue entails a cordial reception, not prior condemnation,’” she said. “‘In order to dialogue, it is necessary to know how to lower the defense, open the doors to the house and offer human warmth.’”
Wood said the journey Jesus invites us to take can be defined as a pilgrimage toward Christian unity.
“To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another,” Wood said. “In this way, we already begin to experience unity. Unity grows along the way. It never stands still. Unity happens when we walk together.”
The ecumenism of blood mentioned throughout the pope’s writings, Wood said, maintains that “martyrdom for the faith constitutes a bond among Christians, whatever their confession, and thus constitutes an ecumenism of blood.” She said religious persecution unites Christians around the world.
“Pope Francis has said, ‘When Christians are persecuted and murdered, they are chosen because they are Christian, not because they are Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, Catholics, Orthodox,” Wood said.
In addition to the themes he touches upon in his writings, Wood said, Pope Francis’s outreach to Evangelicals, Protestants and Lutherans have been exemplary gestures of ecumenism. In all interactions, she said, the Pope urges for progress in unity and communal participation in prayer.
“Pope Francis addresses all Christians in saying, ‘I invite Christians everywhere at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least and openness to letting Him encounter them,’” Wood said. “‘I ask all of you to do this unfailing each day.’”