The president of the Vatican Council for Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, talks in an interview about the importance of ecumenism in the new pontificate, about current ies of dialogue, and about the Pope's trip to the Holy Land in May.
CBA: Cardinal, what is the importance of ecumenism for Pope Francis?
Cardinal Koch: It is very important for him. He seeks unity everywhere, as he clearly said in his great interview with the Jesuit magazine "Civilta cattolica". Also in "Evangelii gaudium" a whole section is dedicated to ecumenical dialogue. In his view, only the Holy Spirit can reconcile unity and diversity. Therefore, spiritual ecumenism has a strong value for him.
CBA: Is the theological dialogue thus subordinate for him?
Cook: Not at all. The ecumenism of love and friendship is the basis for being able to conduct a theological dialogue about truth. From this point of view, fraternity with the other churches is very central for the pope. This is also clearly shown by the many guests from the ecumenical community. The Coptic pope was visiting, the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, but also the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury.
CBA: What is different for you and your work today than in the previous pontificate?
Cook: 'From the basic orientation, I don't see any significant differences'. Also Benedict XVI. has placed very great emphasis on ecumenical encounters. What is apparent is that you now meet with the pope personally a little more often and discuss ies.
CBA: What is closer to the pope, contact with the Eastern churches or with the churches of the Reformation??
Koch: The pope is open to all encounters that are important in ecumenism. I don't see any priorities there. He certainly has a direct knowledge of the Eastern Churches, because he was responsible for the Oriental Catholic Churches in Argentina in Buenos Aires. But he is just as open to the ecclesial communities that emerged from the Reformation. That was clearly shown both by the meeting with the Lutheran World Federation and just now by the one with the ecumenical delegation from Finland.
CBA: The Moscow Patriarchate has just published a document on papal primacy. What does it mean for dialogue?
Koch: The document makes direct reference to the dialogue we are currently having in the great international commission with 14 different Orthodox churches. The text shows very clearly that the Moscow Patriarchate does not agree with the direction of this dialogue and follows a different line here. This creates a double difficulty: we must see how the work of this commission can continue. Moreover, when a document of such high ecclesiastical authority appears in an ongoing work process, the dialogue cannot be continued as freely as it has been conducted so far.
CBA: How to continue?
Koch: We want to hold the next plenary meeting of the Dialogue Commission in September – in Serbia. It must be well prepared. We have to see what further steps we can take.
CBA: Would a meeting of Francis and Cyril be easier today than in previous pontificates?
Cook: It was particularly difficult in the pontificate of John Paul II., which had its causes in his nationality and the difficult Russian-Polish relations at that time. Today it would be more possible. But Metropolitan Hilarion of the Moscow Foreign Office emphasizes again and again: "Much more important than the date itself is the preparation for it. I agree. In addition, the Russian Orthodox side has repeatedly mentioned problems that need to be solved beforehand, such as the tensions between Orthodoxy and the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. But we will have to be surprised.
CBA: In May the Pope will visit the Holy Land. Is it an ecumenical or rather a political trip??
Koch: The focus is on a major meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem – in memory of the first East-West meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI. 50 years ago. This is the real reason for the trip. Bartholomew had already asked Benedict XVI. invited to commemorate these 50 years together. Pope Francis accepted this invitation and agreed to the meeting. But when the pope goes to the Holy Land, many other concerns and accents will also resonate. The expectations are many and enormous. Whether they can all be fulfilled is another question.
CBA: What do you expect from the trip?
Koch: I hope that the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will give a new impetus to ecumenism. When I read the texts from 1964, I am impressed by the passion with which the commonalities were emphasized at that time. Patriarch Athenagoras said: we share the same faith, we are actually the same church, we must find the way to the common altar.
If this passion could be awakened again, I would be very happy. Then the trip is of great significance for the situation in the Holy Land as a whole. I hope that perspectives of peace emanate from it.
CBA: What is the importance of contact and dialogue with Judaism for Pope Francis??
Koch: The contact is very important for him. Already in Argentina he had intensive relations with Jews. Last week, many Jews from Argentina visited here at the Vatican. The encounters were of impressive cordiality and fraternity. Afterwards, Rabbi Skorka publicly stated that the pope was very interested in deepening the theological dialogue with Judaism. I am very happy about that. This is really a challenge that we have to take up. I am sure that the papal visit to Jerusalem will also give new impetus to this dialogue.