Christian leaders across the globe are greeting the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church with prayers, good wishes, and expressions of concern over the new pontiff’s commitment to ecumenicalism.
The General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the Rev. Dr. Keith Clements, has issued the following statement:
The Conference of European Churches greets the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope of the Roman Catholic Church with heartfelt prayers for the blessings of God's strength, guidance and wisdom upon his pontificate. The cardinals who have elected him have chosen a person of forceful personality and intellectual ability to lead their Church into a future which poses many challenges within that Church, in relations with the other Christian Churches and in the world at large.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI has long been known to ecumenical circles, in Europe and beyond, as a strong proponent of the traditional Roman Catholic self-understanding of his Church and the view that the search for unity must be grounded on conviction of the truth. The Conference of European Churches comprises Churches - Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and Old Catholic - which are no less committed to the centrality of Jesus Christ and the Gospel as enshrined in Holy Scripture and the Ecumenical Creeds. Equally they believe that the way into deeper apprehension of the truth lies in dialogue that is honest, humbly respectful of the positions and insights of others, and open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who, as promised by our Lord himself, will lead us into all truth. As the Charta Oecumenica states, "There is no alternative to dialogue." We therefore look for a further stage of the ecumenical journey and in the coming days will welcome every sign and assurance from the Roman Catholic Church that we can walk together on that road.
At this historic moment, we in the CEC particularly greet our partners in the Council of Bishops' Conferences in Europe (CCEE) with our assurances of love and prayers as we journey further together towards the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly to take place in Sibiu, Romania, in 2007 under the theme "The Light of Christ Shines Upon All - Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe." With that goal in mind our prayer for Pope Benedict XVI, for all our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and for ourselves in the Conference of European Churches, is that there may be fulfilled in us the most profound test of truth, integrity and faithfulness, found in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
A press release from the World Council of Churches echoed many of the same themes:
In congratulating the newly-elected pope, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia prayed for "renewed commitment" to "ecumenical openness" and "a dialogue of conversion".
Describing Benedict XVI as a man "known for his theological integrity and ecclesial loyalty, his evangelical simplicity and pastoral sensitivity," Kobia expressed his hope that his pontificate will "constitute a time for the Roman Catholic Church to apply, in a renewed commitment, the teachings and the spirit of ecumenical openness exemplified in the Second Vatican Council to the life of her faithful and of the whole Church."
In a 20 April letter from Geneva to the newly-elected pope, Kobia also emphasized that the ecclesiological vision of the Second Vatican Council has been "open to all ecclesial values present among Christians of other traditions," and therefore "has prompted, encouraged and strengthened the commitment of the Roman Catholic faithful to the journey towards encountering their sisters and brothers in Christ and experiencing the real, though imperfect, communion with them".
"We pray," says Kobia, "that your Pontificate become a blessed time of dialogue between churches, of dialogue in truth and love, of dialogue as an exchange of gifts among Christian churches, a dialogue of conversion".
Why is ecumenical dialogue so important? “The biblical mandate is clear: the church should be like a body in which one part cannot say to another, ‘I have no need of you.’ History is also clear: the divisions of the church undermine our witness to the good news of God’s reconciling love made known in Jesus Christ,” states the web site of the Protestant group Churches Uniting in Christ. The Roman Catholic Church represents the largest body of Christians and how they view ecumenical relations matters. Cardinal Ratzinger’s views on the issue have been worrisome.