Message for Webinar
“Advancing integral disarmament in times of pandemic”

hosted by Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

23 March 2021


Ecumenism can seem to be somewhat cut off from the urgent needs of the world. However, the search for the Christian unity is, on the contrary, deeply connected with the mission of the Church to the world. Jesus prayed that his disciples “may all be one” “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17: 21, 23). The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, famously describes the Church as being “like a sacrament,” that is a sign and instrument of unity with God in order to bring about that unity of all creation that God desires (LG 1 & 9). In this idea lies the connection between ecumenism and peace-building. Christian divisions obscure the sign that the Church gives to the world, and weakens its strength as an instrument of reconciliation in the world. Therefore our work for the unity of Christians is not confined to healing the Church, but is of vital importance for the healing of the world which we believe needs the Church’s witness and ministry.

Of course, most of the work of healing divisions between Christians centres on historical theological differences: longstanding questions regarding Christology; questions concerning the understanding of the Church and authority within it, its structuring and ordering; and questions regarding the work of grace and the sacraments. However, moral questions are also a significant area of ecumenical study and within this peace-building and disarmament has an important place. Even though Christians all profess to be followers of the “Prince of Peace,” it is fair to say that not all Christian communities have the same attitudes towards warfare and the use of arms. In this the Catholic Church has much it can learn from its ecumenical partners and much it can offer. The ongoing development of Catholic Social Teaching with regard to Just War theory and the deployment of modern weaponry which we find in Fratelli tutti is greatly appreciated by many other Christians.

Three ecumenical documents, one completed and two currently being prepared for publication, address the question of peace-building.

In 2003 the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and Mennonite World Conference concluded a document entitled Called to be Peacemakers. Mennonites take their origin from the Radical Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe. These Anabaptist communities suffered violent persecution particularly during the Peasants’ War of 1525. However, the Mennonite communities that grew out of this period of conflict developed a strong commitment to non-violence, describing themselves as a “Peace Church” that “submits to the Prince of Peace, who calls for the way of peace, justice and non-resistance, and who exemplifies the way of non-violence and reconciliation among all people and for all God’s creation” (Called to be Peacemakers 90). In Called to be Peacemakers Catholics agreed with Mennonites “that reconciliation, nonviolence, and active peace-making belong to the heart of the Gospel” and that the mission of active non-violent Christian peace-making to the world “reduces the temptation to turn to arms” (179).

Secondly, the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission is currently finalising a study on the theme of reconciliation entitled God in Christ Reconciling. The document describes how the vocation of the Christian community is both to receive reconciliation as a grace from God and to minister reconciliation through its rites and in its mission to the world. This mission, Catholics and Methodists agree, involves peacebuilding. Both traditions continue to reflect upon and develop their teaching with regard to warfare and in this regard Fratelli tutti, has been particularly helpful. In the document Catholics and Methodists agree that their commitment to peace-building must include working together to reduce the manufacture and sale of arms.

Lastly the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Roman Catholic Church is also currently working on a study document entitled, Peace is a Treasure for All. Beginning from a shared conviction that Christians are sent to be agents of healing and reconciliation in the world the document will ask what is peace, what threatens peace and what builds peace? With regard to what threatens peace the document will name militarisation, the arms trade and nuclear proliferation. This joint study is an opportunity to build common ground with other Christians regarding our teaching on peacebuilding and non-violence.

Although the central work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is the work of theological dialogue, we also promote and encourage the collaboration of Christians at all levels of Christian life. In The Bishop and Christian Unity, the Ecumenical Vademecum published by this Pontifical Council in 2020, peacebuilding is given as an example of one area where Christians can work together and give joint witness (§38). It is to be hoped that the documents that I have briefly discussed will inspire Christians to such co-operation.

I began by saying that the work of Christian unity makes the Church a more powerful sign and instrument in bringing about the reconciliation of peoples. However, it is also true that as Christians work together for the cause of peace, the cause of Christian unity is advanced.