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New evangelisation is hindered by Christian disunity, says Pope

By on Thursday, 19 January 2012

Benedict XVI greets cardinals and bishops during his general audience (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Benedict XVI greets cardinals and bishops during his general audience (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Division among Christians weakens their credibility and their ability to respond to the spiritual yearning of many men and women today, Benedict XVI has said.

While “there is more that unites us than divides us” on the basic tenets of faith – belief in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of humanity – “divisions remain and regard many practical and ethical questions, giving rise to confusion and mistrust, weakening our ability to transmit the saving word of Christ”, Pope Benedict said at his weekly general audience yesterday.

With about 8,000 pilgrims and visitors gathered in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict spoke about the importance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on January 18-25.

The lack of a united voice and united witness poses a huge obstacle to the new evangelisation, “which would be more fruitful if all Christians proclaimed together the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and gave a common response to the spiritual thirst of our age”, the Pope said.

During his audience talk Pope Benedict did not mention specific practical or moral issues dividing Christians today, but he has defined as obstacles to unity practices such as the ordination of women and different approaches to moral issues such as homosexuality.

The Second Vatican Council placed the search for Christian unity “at the centre of the life and work of the Church”, the Pope said, and it did so because it was Christ’s desire for his followers and because, practically speaking, it is essential for the full credibility of Christians.

“The lack of unity among Christians impedes a more effective proclamation of Christ because it puts our credibility in danger,” the Pope said. “How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided?”

The key to Christian unity isn’t simply to have members of different denominations be nice to one another and work together occasionally, he said.

“It requires that we reinforce our faith in God, the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and became one of us. It requires entering into a new life in Christ, who is our true and definitive victory. It means opening ourselves to each other, welcoming all the elements of unity that God has preserved for us and gives us constantly. It means feeling the urgency of witnessing to the men and women of our time the living God who has made himself known in Christ,” Pope Benedict said.

  • Lee

    Well it would be stronger if the Vatican discarded with the Post Vatican II ecumenism which runs counter to the faith of Our LORD. Ambiguousness and equivocation towards our faith vis-a-vis other heretics has done the Bride of Christ nothing but a disservice in bringing souls to Our LORD. So really, there is no division because those outside have ‘narrowed’ the faith (heretics) or are not of the faith at all even if the purport to call themselves Christians (heathen).

  • Anonymous

    The New Evangelisation is all over the place :( “[D]ivisions remain and regard many practical and ethical questions…” – what about the many questions of dogma ? There was plenty to divide Christians long before sex reared its ugly head. Those divisions are not nearly healed, even though, in many parts of the Churches, there is far less confessional venom than there used to be. How really important is confessional disunity ? IMO, less important, despite its interest, than many more basic issues, such as the existence & credibility of Jesus, or the character of the God of the Bible. Ecclesiology is far less basic than whether there is a God we need to or should bother with in the first place. People are not going to be converted by an institution – only by the Holy Spirit; He needs to be given far more attention than He receives.

    And this whole “new evangelisation” thing – JP2 went on about it before the present Pope did. To judge by this link:

    from a site devoted to the NE, it’s just something for the bishops of Europe to publish more trees’ worth of hot air about. It is a very depressing bad joke – the top of the Church (= the Pope, his circle, & various dicasteries) talk about it & give interviews about it; but on the ground, tens of thousands leave the scandal-ridden, boring, irrelevant Church every year.  When does a “new evangelisation” become a great idea that didn’t work ?

    Why should people bother with Christ, if they have no need of Him ? I don’t think those who are floating this thing are asking the right questions, & I suspect they are taking far too much for granted. What they ought to do is spend a months on sites & pages & weblogs that express dislike for Christianity, contempt for Christ, suspicion of every detail about him, revulsion for the Bible and its atrocity-stories, loathing for the Church’s behaviour. That will show why a lot of people don’t believe their message, & think it is infantile rubbish. A lot of that material is English-speaking, but English-speakers are hardly the only people who think Jesus is as credible as the Tooth Fairy.

    People like Fr. Robert Barron are tackling issues that affect how people think and believe – his videos, everyone of which deserves watching, can be found on YouTube. He is dealing with real problems, real questions, real issues: not talking the hind leg off a donkey about issues that bore everyone but theologians & Vaticanisti to sleep. People are not going to be attracted by pages of sesquipedalian verbiage, however well-meant. Ecumenical agreements between ecclesiastics are nothing but old bog-paper if they have no foundation or echo in what Christians in the Churches represented actually believe. It is useless, and worse, for Vatican prelates to jabber away ecumenically with Orthodox bishops when a lot of Orthodox feeling is strongly, and for stated reasons, anti-Roman. The problems of the NE, & of ecumenism, belong together. 

    Why are most Catholics so completely useless at evangelising ? That too badly needs to be looked at, though many reasons can be suggested; otherwise the CC, despite its strength on paper, will continue to be pathetically ineffective in proportion to its size. Cults like the JWs & SDAs spread like wildfire because they, like more orthodox Evangelical churches, have a Gospel to proclaim; a side effect is that millions of Catholics leave the Church. If all our weaknesses are not looked at, and remedied, the NE will fizzle out.

  • Sweetjae

    The teachings of vatII on religious ecumenism is the right response to the rapidly changing world. This false interpretation of “traditionalists” whereby putting interpretive authority on their shoulders of what think tradition truly says is nowhere found in the tradition they espoused that only belongs to the Magisterial Authority of the Church. Nothing in the documents of VatII says that all religion is equal or false religion is another way to salvation but rather when Protestant churches separated from the Church they didn’t separate fully, that they retained some solid truths that they shared with us Catholics, like the Deity of Christ, Holy Trinity etc. With which God may use to “channel” His grace to bring Salvation to those outside of the clear boundaries of the Catholic Church. If God can use an inanimate tangible object like the bronze serpent sculpture to channel his healing grace to the Jewish people of Moses time, how much more are the truths found in Protestant churches? This is a major point of argument that SSPX make so much fuss about…..unwarranted.

  • Anonymous

    We finally agree on something. There is a lot of theological ignorance. This needs to be tackled.

    Commitment is also up to individuals. Catholics need to stop waiting for some else to make the move. Individuals need to be informed about the faith and live it.

    Catholics need to read the Catechism, get more involved in their local churches.

    You don’t fight less commitment with even lesser commitment. You fight it with more.

  • Eduardo Olsson

    The unity is very important, because in Christ we are all the same 

  • David Armitage

    Take a look at the photo. Imagine Jesus riding his donkey among that lot. Sort it before talking about full credibility of Christians. Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and became one of us, doesn’t really fit the picture.

  • Anonymous

    No disagreement here, with any of that at all.

    But are the foundations of the NE solid ? ISTM there are quite a few worrying questions that need asking. For example: if the NE really did take fire, and set the Church alight – would the Church be able to “receive” such a thing ? There is no guarantee that the Church would like a NE if it were as God willed it – the Church’s record for to recognising God’s Work when it has been happening has been spotty at best. And there can be no guarantee that God wants for the Church only what the hierarchy are prepared to recognise: God is unpredictable – it’s entirely possible that the sort of Church He desires is not the authoritarian kind the Pope favours. Wanting renewal is dangerous – it can take the Church where it might not wish to go. God is not safe – & the hierarchy seems to want a safe God, one it can control. A very Roman instinct, & very valuable for some purposes; but not one that sits well with the religion of the OT & NT.

    People who have not been evangelised, cannot evangelise others – nobody can give to another what he has not himself received. Catechetics, though unqiestionably important, is not enough – for a fire, wood is not enough; you need something to burn it with for there to be a fire. Something more than catechesis is needed for catechesis to be effective. And even very good catechesis can not of itself be any more than the firewood for a (doctrinally-informed) faith – it needs something to set it alight, and give it life, and strength. There cannot be any real evangelisation, evangelisation that will permanently & radically transform lives, without the work of the Holy Spirit. That is something Evangelicals know very well – do all Catholics know it ? No commitment can endure (see the Parable of the Sower) without the life and strength that only God can give. Without the Holy Spirit, the NE is doomed to frustration before it begins. 

  • Anonymous

    The Holy Spirit is a big part of the New Evanglization. The Life In The Spirit Seminars totally changed my life.  You should try them.

    The fruit lies in transformation of one’s life rather than than trying to conform with the culture as so many Christians are.There are prayer meetings in every church that is open to them.

    The Mass I attend is charismatic.

    It’s not an either/or, but a Both/And.  One thing you have to keep in mind about this church. The Holy Sprit can work through praise, but can also work through silence, like with the prophet Elijah.

    The issue with relying only on private revelation is that if it’s not consistent with what has been revealed, it leads to schism after schism and division.As I recall, the reformation was not over sexual issues, but over theology.From that perspective, we accept everything other Christians do, but do not reject what the do.

    Catholicism is simply “More” Christianity.What’s missing on our side is commitment.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    “The Life In The Spirit Seminars totally changed my life.  You should try them.”

    ## I’ve heard of them, but know nothing of them. Have you a link ? My experience of the charismatic movement has all been Evangelical Protestant, & it’s some time in the past. Are you familar with the Faith Movement (the UK Catholic one – not the US Protestant one which propagates the “prosperity gospel”) ?

    “The fruit lies in transformation of one’s life rather than than trying to conform with the culture as so many Christians are.”

    Of course.

    “The issue with relying only on private revelation is that if it’s
    not consistent with what has been revealed, it leads to schism after
    schism and division.”

    ## OTOH, it is also possible for one person to be right, and the rest to be in the wrong. Numbers are no guide to values – not even to truth. The CC does have a strong bias to favouring the rightness of the community over against the individual – it has yet to find a healthy balance between the one and many. AFAICS it’s not at ease with prophets – if Isaiah said today in the CC what he said to the Jerusalemites of 740 BC, it’s hard to see his being favourably received by Church authority. And his message – or something equally unwelcome & unsettling – may be what the Church needs.   

    The point is not about reliance only on private revelation, so much as about how could Church Authority is at heeding a Divine inspiration. CA is important, not because it alone has to be attentive – we all have to – but because the structure of the Church as it at present doesn’t leave much room for Christians to move if CA says, “stay”.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t live in the U.K. so I am not familiar with the faith movement. I am in Canada. 

    But, I came across this link to the LLS seminar in the UK, on whom to contact.

    “The CC does have a strong bias to favouring the rightness of the community over against the individual ”

    There is a reason for this. 

    The Apostles first had to be gathered into the upper room to receive the Holy Spirit.

    Christ cannot be pit against his church. 

    Two Popes in a row have called for a new Pentecost.

    For us this means, getting our lives straight with God, and living a sacramental life, so we can me more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

    Either the Holy Spirit guides the church or does not.

  • Alan

    Over the centuries the Church has accumulated a huge amount of doctrine, put together in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the general understanding is that our salvation depends (among other things) on acceptance of every single one of these doctrines.  In practice there are probably few Catholics who positively accept every single teaching, and it seems somewhat bizarre that salvation depends on this.  Christian unity could be advanced by the Church saying that, while not necessarily reversing any particular teaching, it is not necessary to positively accept everything (except of course the historic creeds etc.).  It is this attitude of “we possess all the truth, and everybody else is wrong or imperfect” which is so off-putting, and which even many Catholics find distinctly unappealing.

  • David Armitage

    I tried it. It’s bugged for phishing

  • Anonymous

    That’s strange, because I don’t have the same issue here.

    Anyway’s I think getting in touch with the Catholic Renewal Ministries in the UK would be better

  • Anonymous


    The church does not teach that everybody else is wrong. The teaching of the church is that when other Christians separated from it, they retained elements of the truth such as the Creed etc, and therefore God can work through these things to save them.

    On the other hand, those who have been given the fullness of the faith, should not turn their back on it.

    Unity cannot be achieved when everybody is constantly contradicting themselves.

    A lot of churches have departed from the teachings of their own founders, never mind from the Catholic church.

    There is something wrong when God is constantly contradicting himself.

    How can Christians evangelize others, when they cannot make up their mind?

  • Alan

    My point was that the Church has accumulated huge amounts of doctrine (700 pages worth in the Catechism), often in response to arguments arising throughout history, but is it really necessary to insist that every jot and tittle is necessary for salvation?  All mainstream churches agree on the basics, but Vatican II talked about a “hierarchy of truths”, and I don’t see the need to insist that the “lower order” doctrines (whatever they are) have to be accepted by other churches before organic unity can take place.

  • Anonymous

    I am not an expert on this issue. And no it’s not necessary that every single thing be required for salvation.

    However, There are certain things without which unity cannot take place. Agreement on the Creed, the seven sacraments, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Intercession of Our Blessed Mother and the Saints, and Apostolic succession necessary for the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and the visible church on earth.

    Among the churches, only the Orthodox have maintained these things.

     The Protestants on the other hand have thrown out so much, that the very religion does not resemble anything found in the Apostolic church.

    This is very sad, but unfortunately the case.

    Truth cannot be compromised for unity.

  • Benedict Carter

    Still wittering on about ecumenism I see.

    The only true ecumenism, as Pius XII I believe said, is for Protestants to join the Church Christ founded, and give up their sects and false doctrines. 

    And this “New Evangelisation”: a lot seems to be spoken about it. But what is it? Who can define it?

  • Benedict Carter

    “Channelling”, now that’s very Vatican II – Nu-Church – New Age. Know any good fakirs?