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IV. Proposal For Future Work


    Before submitting proposals for its future work, the Joint Working Group wants to draw attention to a concern which applies equally to all areas of its activities. In the mandate of the JWG, given in the Fourth Report and reaffirmed here, hope is expressed that the JWG will "draw upon insights gained from local experience to foster... collaboration." Already in its interim account, published with the agreement of the parent bodies in 1980 (cf. "‘Deepening Communion.' An Account of Current Work", Ecumenical Review 32, 2 (1980) 179ff), the JWG expressed its conviction "that it needs to receive greater visibility in order to stimulate local collaboration" (ibid., 185). Examples were given there of how this objective could be achieved. They included the sharing of results of its deliberations with the constituencies on both sides, even at an interim stage, the sharing of study documents, visible gestures to highlight aspect of collaboration, visits, special meetings, using the Week of Prayer, and highlighting the Joint Working Group meeting itself.

1. The way towards unity

    Were a reminder needed, the experience of the past decade would demonstrate that the necessary process of mutual clarification, study and negotiation is not itself enough to achieve unity. The ecumenical movement is an integral part of the whole reconciling work of Christ in which we participate most fruitfully by that holiness of life which is an identification with God's will. Essential to it is a conversion of heart and life both corporate and individual. This must vivify and motivate the necessary renewal of present structures and provide the impulse not only to bring Christians together and enable them to accept each other but to arrive at a common confession of the one faith and reconciliation in one ministry. It is, in short, the conversion to that which God wills for the Church. This is the condition which is indispensable for all the other efforts to be fruitful.

    Significant progress has been made in recent years through bilateral and multilateral dialogues, in cooperation between the JWG and Faith & Order, as well as through the forum on bilateral conversations, in sharpening the common understanding of the goal of unity as well as discerning essential elements and conditions of unity. While the JWG is not itself the place for dialogue as such, it does have to concern itself with the whole relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the member churches of the World Council and must therefore interest itself in the results of the dialogues and their meaning for unity. The JWG should maintain close contact with the work of the Commission on Faith & Order, especially in the area of a common expression of the apostolic faith and in the deepening of agreement on the understanding and practice of baptism, eucharist and the ministry. The publication of the convergence statement, "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry" presents a considerable challenge also for the Catholic side as it becomes necessary to determine how far this work does represent a convergence in faith.

    In continuing the earlier joint program on the "Unity of the Church, the Goal and the Way," outlined in 1976, the Joint Working Group proposes to focus attention on those parts which have not been sufficiently taken up, i.e., (1) a renewed reflection on the Church as sign and sacrament, coming back after more than a decade to its earlier ecclesiological study on "Catholicity and Apostolicity"; (2) a continuation of the review of ecumenical structures of collaboration, specifically councils of churches and the other interim structures which already express a unity "in via." In pursuing this study, attention should be given to the themes proposed by the exploratory consultation organized by the Faith & Order Commission and the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in 1982 on the significance of councils of churches in the ecumenical movement. These include the following:

- the ecclesial importance of the "recognition" and "fellowship" experienced in a council of churches:

- the place of councils on the way towards visible unity, and their role in promoting movement from one stage to another;

- the interaction of local, national, regional and world "levels" as these affect the life of councils and their member churches; - the relation of councils of churches to other forms of ecumenical collaboration.

    Further, to emphasize the search for "visible interim steps," the JWG sees potential value in a reflection on the possibilities of common worship including the sharing of liturigical and devotional resources, the ecumenical significance of the veneration of saints and the encouragement of informed, mutual intercession (See For All of God's People, (Geneva: WCC, 1978)).

    Finally, in line with the effort of recent years to face together the pastoral care of mixed marriages, it would be valuable to reflect on what has been happening. It might be possible to see how this pastoral collaboration could intensify and become more widespread so that a better witness be given to the growing unity between churches.

2. Common Witness

    Work for the visible unity of the Church and common witness in the world are intimately related. The two studies published by the Joint Working Group - "Common Witness and Proselytism" (1970), and "Common Witness" (1981), bring evidence to show that common witness is one of the essential ways of discovering and deepening the unity which is given in Christ while the strongest form of common witness is the will of the churches to give visible expression to the communion which already exists among them. This communion is not yet complete but common witness serves to show in striking ways how it is growing, and is a means of deepening it. Inevitably in giving witness together, divided Christians are brought in new and painful ways to face the divisions which remain, yet this very experience becomes, through witness given together, an impelling motive to work for the fullness of visible communion. Common witness does not confuse or hide the issue of division but helps the churches live and act together before the world in the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is thus a test and condition for the ecumenical movement.

    Therefore, the JWG affirms common witness as one of its priorities. It will explore ways in which the relationship between the RCC and the WCC may give evidence of it. It has also to work out the implications of the 1981 document for possible action at world level by the RCC and the WCC. The document is translated into several languages and it must continue to be the task of the JWG to ensure that it is brought in an adequate way to the attention of the RCC and the WCC member churches for reflection, reaction and implementation, so that they may renew their commitment to witness in unity and may explore fuller possibilities of common witness in their respective situations.

    Part of the task is also an articulation of the import of the theological perspectives on common witness, outlined in the study document, for the other studies on the unity of the Church, for the reception of the doctrinal convergences being reached by the churches, and ultimately for the achievement of a sharing in eucharistic communion.

    In view of the desire expressed at the time of the Second Vatican Council for a common declaration on religious freedom, and giving account to the present situation in the world which elicited the recent statement of the World Council of Churches on religious liberty, it becomes desirable to explore the possibility of working together on the question of religious liberty to secure a common witness.

    Recently the Joint Working Group has stressed the need to stimulate ecumenical awareness and to give a new ecumenical formation on regional and local levels by various endeavors of common witness. One means of doing this may be through a series of joint regional consultations over the next few years to explore in a practical way opportunities for common witness.

3. Social Collaboration

    Common witness includes the efforts of the churches to act together in the defense and promoting of human dignity, the relief of human need and the affirmation of justice and peace which must be expressed in human relationships and in the structures of society. The concern for Christian social responsibility is an integral part of the apostolic mission of the Church. Missionary perspectives necessarily open on to solidarity with the poor, justice, peace, respect for human rights, while the social responsibility of the Church has its context in the proclamation of the Word and the opening of the human spirit to the transcendent.

    This area however has also an integrity of its own and should continue to be seen by the JWG as belonging to its proper field of concern. Recognizing that social collaboration will continue to be conditioned by the differences in structure and method of working in the RCC and the WCC, the Joint Working Group should not cease to encourage the development of flexible forms of collaboration on the international as well as on national and local levels.

    Despite the doctrinal differences among the churches, in recent years, an ecumenical convergence has been growing in the understanding of several issues in social ethics. Recognizing this convergence the JWG should look for ways which could help to make visible to a wider audience the joint commitment to these elementary affirmations about Christian social responsibility which are in conformity with the common Christian faith. In accordance with its earlier discussion at Le Louverain (1979), the JWG sees value in exploring possibilities of common pastoral and catechetical guidance and common work in the following areas

"a) Development: There is, for example, agreement that structural changes are required in the international economic order to correct inequities and spread the use of resources and the benefits of technology among all peoples.

b) Peace: Agreement exists, among other points, that the madness of the arms race diverts resources from development, increases the threat of force in international dispute, and creates the conditions for the destruction of the human race.

c) Human Rights: Based on inherent human dignity, the ‘image of God' in us, and on our common redemption in Christ, the rights (inter alia) to life, to access to health care, to work, to a decent standard of living, to cultural identity, to education, to participation in public life, to dissent for consciences' sake, to physical and psychological integrity, to freedom from torture, and to religious liberty, must be safeguarded by international agreement" (see Minutes of the JWG, Le Louverain, 1979).

Attention should also be given to the possibility of encouraging initiatives in the area of racism and concerning the role of women.

    In addition, the Joint Working Group had noted in 1979 that there are on which convergence is lacking and which need to be explored further before common action could be possible. "These differences appear among the member churches of the WCC as well as between some of them and the Roman Catholic Church: the pattern of difference changes with the issues include: Aspects of the roles of women and men in the life of the community; patterns of family life, birth control and sexual ethics; forms and means of responding to the need for social change; and methodological approaches to ethics.

    Finally, the Joint Working Group should look for ways to enrich and deepen the joint reflection of the WCC and the RCC on basic theological and ecclesiological themes which constitute the necessary background for deeper mutual understanding of ecumenical social responsibilities. Such themes are the relation of the Kingdom of God to this world, the role of faith in social problems, the relation between evangelism and struggle for justice in society, the action of the churches and the role of laity, the modes of intervention of the Church in the secular realm of society.

    On a more practical level the JWG should entourage appropriate initiatives to come to a closer and more effective coordination between the network of RCC and WCC related service agencies at various levels in the area of aid and relief, in order to avoid the possibilities of divisive effects of separate programs for local communities.

    It is important to find ways of sharing information about the considerable volume of ecumenical work going on in local situations and to evaluate this so that a fruitful interaction may be achieved between initiatives at various levels.

4. Ecumenical Formation

    The JWG insists on the present urgency of the task of ecumenical formation. It stresses that the improved relations between still separated Christians are not enough. The scandal of Christian division and their deleterious effect on Christian witness continues to obscure the saving power of Christ's Brace. God's plan to sum up all things in Christ requires to be shown forth in the common proclamation of the one apostolic faith and in the communion of the one visible eucharistic fellowship and to be an active power in drawing the human community into reconciliation and oneness. Hence the need to deepen an understanding of the mystery of the Church.

    Ecumenical formation is a process which includes several elements. It means imparting information about what God is doing through the ecumenical movement to draw his people into one. It entails learning about existing differences between Christians and their churches and about the new convergences being achieved. Such learning comes both from obtaining the relevant information and from involvement in the deeper levels of experience in the life of the Christian community at worship, in service and in witness. It comes too in the acknowledgment and practice of responsibility towards each other by communities of separated Christians as well as by their engagement in various forms of ecumenical dialogue.

    The ecumenical dimension is an indispensable part of all processes of Christian formation and nurture, be it the formation of laity, youth work, programs of catechesis and religious education or theological training.
Today many people, especially those participating in programs of laity formation, receive their most significant experience of the ecumenical dimension in the common effort for justice, peace and development. Such initiatives touch on urgent problems and bring Christians together in the exercise of responsibility for building the whole human community as well as relating global issues to daily action.

    Reflection on the nurturing character of all these experiences is needed. It is clear that further ways have to be found of bringing together the different processes of learning, relating formal teaching processes to informal methods of learning (such as conscientization). This can also help Christians to appreciate the necessary relation between the goal of the unity of the Church and the concern for the unity of mankind.

    Much has to be done if ecumenical formation is to become a full part of the whole Christian ministry. The impact of ecumenical initiatives among educators often remains on the professional level and insufficiently communicates with or benefits from the experience of parish and local communities. Promising new forms of Christian formation at various levels still often do not take sufficient account of the ecumenical movement and its role in the mission of the Church. More attention could be given to the ecumenical process found in frequent local and spontaneous efforts of local and spontaneous joint study and action (e.g., during Lent, etc.).

    The formal catechetical programs of various churches often take the ecumenical dimension for granted. It is necessary to spell it out sufficiently and to exploit the new theological convergences. Opportunities of joining in common action with regard to catechetical materials or syllabuses, where this is possible (see the Apostolic Exhortation of pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae), must not be missed.

    Young people have a new experience and often relate to events in the world with a special sensitivity. Better ways must be found of alerting them to the ecumenical dimension and its place in the total responsibility of Christians to and for each other and for the world. As they face life they need help to discern and to use those living situations where ecumenical learning takes place. In this they will need the wisdom and support of those who have pastoral and teaching roles in the Church. Likewise those who have leadership in the churches have to show confidence in young people and react with sensitivity to the contribution which they will make.

    Another crucial area is that of theological education and particularly the education of pastors, perhaps the most influential point in ecumenical sensitization. There is a great range of possibilities but even where there are joint or collaborative faculties and programs more could be done to draw out their potential with the support and guidance of those responsible in the various churches. In some seminaries homage is paid to ecumenical ideals while there is an absence of any formal teaching about the ecumenical movement or its history and its theological, spiritual and pastoral significance for the Christian community. As well as trying to include the ecumenical dimension in the courses on theology it seems still necessary to have also courses which give explicit information and reflection on the ecumenical movement.

    At this point in the history of the ecumenical movement and of the relations between the RCC and the WCC and its member churches a new effort has to be made to assess and use more effectively the resources for this basic task of ecumenical formation.

5. Continuing Collaboration

    It will be the task of the Joint Working Group to look carefully at what can be done to develop and extend the regular pattern of collaboration and common effort with the various sub-units of the World Council of Churches. In several instances it is substantial and has its own rhythm and style, in others it is still necessary to be on the watch for possibilities of deepening what are as yet only initial contacts. There are several areas where immediate work has to be done.

    a) Faith & Order

    With completion of the study "Baptism, Eucharist and a Mutually Recognized Ministry" it is now important to find the right ways of obtaining reactions. First steps were taken at an earlier stage in the work and these did involve some Catholic theological faculties. Now the effort has to be made on a wider scale to have the document known and to test its conclusions so that the convergence in faith which it represents may become part of the consciousness of Christian people. Further necessary progress can take place only if discussion is aroused on all levels, especially on the implications of the convergences for the relationship between the churches.

    A similar task has to be done with the study "Toward a Common Expression of the One Apostolic Faith Today," although this is not yet in its final stages.

    b) Dialogue with Other Faiths and Ideologies

    The pattern of contact and exchange of collaboration now seems to have developed to the point where one or other initiative of common program could be undertaken and ways of giving visible and structured expression to the relationship be explored.

c) Community of Women and Men in Church and Society

    Work on this theme has been done on the Roman Catholic side and is actively being pursued in the World Council of Churches. It involves many of the major issues of today seen from the angle of the involvement and responsible participation of men and women in the life of society. It seems desirable to do more towards a sharing of information and resources and, if possible, coordination of work with consideration given eventually to common efforts in evaluation and follow-up. It could be interesting also, and not only in connection with this question, to look together at the changes on each side in the understanding of the role of the laity over the last thirty years.

d) Joint Staff Meetings

    Meetings between the staff of the individual responsible Roman dicasteries and the corresponding sub-unit of the World Council of Churches have proved their usefulness for exchange of information, mutual sharing of resources and discovering ways of developing the partnership. They already take place regularly between the Pontifical Commission justice and Peace with the Churches' Commission on International Affairs and with the Churches' Commission for Participation in Development, between the Dialogue with Living Faiths and Ideologies and the Secretariat for Non-Christians, between the Program for Theological Education and the Congregation for Catholic Education, between the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Unit on Education and Renewal. It is important to be alert to new possibilities for bringing other partners from each side into such a regular contact.

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