Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., stressed the bond of Baptism which is “stronger than all our divisions” in an address given at a reception for non-Catholic observers and guests at the ecumenical council.
Cardinal Bea added that “Christians all over the world are daily becoming more aware of these bonds.” The Cardinal, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, which gave the reception, also asked for the positive criticism and suggestions of the observers and guests.
In his reply to Cardinal Bea, Dr. Edmund Schlink, Lutheran faculty member of Germany’s Heidelberg University, said that Pope John XXIII “by the initiative of his heart has created a new atmosphere of openness in regard to the non-Roman churches.”
Cardinal Bea noted in his speech that a number of the Orthodox churches were not represented at the reception, but praised the efforts made by both Catholics and Orthodox to overcome the obstacles between them, even though the efforts were not completely successful.
The Cardinal welcomed the observers and guests, saying:
“Instead of a long listing of your titles, which I certainly do respect, please allow me to address you with these simple but so profound words: ‘My Brothers in Christ.’”
Cardinal Bea said his greeting “plunges us immediately into the profound consciousness of the incommensurable grace of Baptism which has established bonds that are indestructible, stronger than all our divisions.”
The Cardinal emphasized that these mutual bonds have led non-Catholic groups to send observers to the ecumenical council and the Pope to set up the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity to aid the observers.
He gave thanks to God that such a friendly meeting could take place but added:
“True, this work is not complete. There are above all a good number of venerable Orthodox churches of the East, which are not officially represented. This fact is doubtlessly painful to both sides, for them and for us.
“Nevertheless we must recognize that great efforts have been made by both sides, without completely arriving at the clearance of the large obstacles that came between them. There remains for us only to pray to the Divine Head of the Church that He multiply His mercies.
“Meanwhile, we shall exert ourselves to prevent our relations in Christ from suffering from it and so that these relations may not be affected by this setback. Above all it is necessary that our faith in the irresistible efficacy of the grace of Christ and in the work of the Holy Spirit and all baptized persons remain unweakened.”
Cardinal Bea assured his listeners that the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity would “always be most willingly at your disposal.”
“That is why,” he continued, “I ask you to grant us complete confidence and thus to tell us very frankly above all during the sessions especially organized for you by the secretariat — everything that you dislike, to share with us your positive criticisms, your suggestions, your desires.”
The Cardinal said he could not promise a solution for every problem but that he and his staff would work to assist them in all things and do everything possible for them. Among special efforts of the secretariat will be weekly Tuesday briefings for observers and guests. Dr. Schlink, who was spokesman for the observers and guests, said in his reply to Cardinal Bea’s welcoming speech:
“So far there have only been meetings of individuals and small gatherings between Catholics and non-Catholics. We consider it great progress that these meetings should now have led to the one at this council which has an official character.”
Dr. Schlink pointed out that observers have been given the same list of proposals as the council Fathers and now are offered the opportunity to comment on them, a fact which they deeply appreciate. He said that while there are still many obstacles to a full realization of Christian unity, there is now hope for a true dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics.
“I am convinced,” he concluded, “that divided Christianity has more in common when it comes to the substance of revealed truth than would appear in the different versions of it. Which shows that the Bible belongs to all of us together and that much may be expected from continued interfaith cooperation in the development of Biblical studies.”