In the last decades, ecumenism and the ecumenical movement have become commonplace for most Christians. In a situation where the term globalization characterises our condition in all its ambiguity, to the majority of people ecumenism seems self-evident. Nonetheless, after the first rather euphoric phase of the ecumenical movement which followed the Second Vatican Council, the last decade has seen us experiencing signs of tiredness, disillusionment and stagnation. Some speak even of a crisis, and many Christians no longer understand the differences on which the Churches are arguing with each other. Others hold that ecumenism is outmoded and that interreligious dialogue now represents the new agenda. In my opinion, there is a difference but not a competition between the two dialogues, for ultimately to be effective interreligious dialogue presupposes that Christians can speak one and the same language. Indeed, the necessity of interreligious dialogue makes ecumenical dialogue even more urgent.
We are too is wounded by the divisions of Christianity. Her wounds include the impossibility of concretely realizing fully her own Catholicity in the situation of division. Several aspects of being Church are better realized in the other Churches. Therefore, ecumenism is no one-way street, but a reciprocal learning process, or – as stated in the ecumenical Encyclical “Ut unum sint” – an exchange of gifts.
Although has been achieved over the last decades, there is still a long way to go. Separated Christians no longer consider one another as strangers, competitors or even enemies, but as brothers and sisters. They have largely removed the former lack of understanding, misunderstanding, prejudice, and indifference; they pray together, they give together witness to their common faith; in many fields they work trustfully together. They have experienced that “what unites us is much greater than what divides us”. Such a change was hardly conceivable only half a century ago; to wish to go back to those times would entail being forsaken not only by all good spirits but also by the Holy Spirit.
The Council distinguishes full communion from imperfect communion. The aim of ecumenical work is the full communion and the fullness of unity, which cannot be a unitary Church, but a unity in diversity. The way to it is therefore not the return of the others into the fold of the Catholic Church, nor the conversion of individuals to the Catholic Church (even if this must obviously be mutually acknowledged when it is based on reasons of conscience).In the ecumenical movement the question is the conversion of all to Jesus Christ. As we move nearer to Jesus Christ, in him we move nearer to one another. Therefore, it is not a question of Church political debates and compromises, not of some kind of union, but of a reciprocal spiritual exchange and a mutual enrichment. The oikoumene is a spiritual process, in which the question is not about a way backwards but about a way forwards. Such unity is ultimately a gift of God’s Spirit and of his guidance. Therefore, the oikoumene is neither a mere academic nor only a diplomatic matter; its soul is spiritual ecumenism which allows us to share together our spiritual heritages and enter into a dialogue which is realistic, positive and healthy instead of judging and criticizes one another sometimes of things and events that have no more relevance to contemporary society. This course helps us to appreciate the road of ecumenism and its theological perspective.