Response by Ecumenical Observers to Welcome of Pope Paul

Following is the text of the response made in the name of the delegate observers at the ecumenical council to the welcome given them by Pope Paul at a reception on Oct. 17. It is a translation of the address delivered in French by Dr. Kristen E. Skydsgaard, delegate observer of the Lutheran World Federation.


In receiving us here, Your Holiness will certainly understand that we who are guests and observers at this council would like, above all, to reca1l with affection and respect the memory of your predecessor, Pope John XXIII, who greeted us in this very place last year.

The news of the death of this great Pope filled us with sadness. We shall never be able to forget him, so full was he of spontaneity and of love, of wisdom and of courage.

It is my privilege today to express to Your Holiness, in the name of the guest and delegate observers, our deep gratitude for the renewal of the invitation to this second session of the council, and for the friendliness with which we have been received both at the opening ceremony in St. Peter’s and also now in this audience.

We are aware that we are witnesses of an event which is so decisively significant for the Roman Catholic Church of our day, and we would like to tell you with what interest and attention we follow the deliberations of the council where diverse opinions are sometimes expressed by the council Fathers, but always in an atmosphere of objectivity and loyalty.

Each day we experience the good will of the council Fathers toward us, and the unfailing readiness of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity to help us.

The cordiality and frankness which surrounds us makes it easier for us to fulfill sincerely and in good faith our tasks as observers. We are especially grateful to His Eminence, Cardinal Bea, who has generously invited us to express both our positive and negative reactions to the work of the council.

The schema “De Ecclesia,” which is at present under consideration, is certainly — today as in the past — one of the most difficult and debated of subjects.

One could say, in fact, that the doctrine of the Church is the point at which all our divisions culminate so that it is precisely here that they seem insurmountable, despite our sincere efforts to understand each other.

Yet in this sad and discouraging situation, we have made some progress simply by reason of the fact that we jointly experience this difficulty and together bear its burden.

In these times, one sometimes meets a naively optimistic or superficial ecumenicism which appears to think that the visible union of Christians can be quickly achieved. This is certainly not our view, and it is for us a real relief to know that Your Holiness does not share this opinion. Your sober and realistic words on Sunday, Sept. 29, clearly testify to this. As Your Holiness said, there are grave and complicated problems to be studied and resolved, and their solution presupposes conditions which at present do not yet exist.

Permit me in this connection to refer to a development which seems to me extremely important. I am thinking of the role of a Biblical theology which concentrates on the study of the history of salvation in the Old as well as in the New Testament. The more we progress in understanding the hidden and paradoxical history of the people of God, the more we shall begin truly to understand the Church of Jesus Christ in its mystery, in its historical existence and in its unity.

Once again allow me, Your Holiness, to express our living hope that the light of such a concrete and historical theology, that is, a theology nourished by the Bible and the teaching of the Fathers, will shine more and more in the work of this council.

We also rejoice wholeheartedly at the new ecumenical spirit which is becoming manifest in this council. We find ourselves meeting together at the beginning of a road whose end God alone knows. It is for us to walk together in hope because we believe that the crucified and risen Christ is with us on the way.

This beginning is at one and the same time God’s gift and a responsibility, because much will be required of all of us along this road: a clear witness must be given to the Gospel, there must be humility and patience, all “triumphalism” must be excluded. Above all, no divisions can prevent us from loving each other because Christ’s love knows no limits. In this love of Christ, we must seek and find the truth: seek in order to find, and find in order to seek again, as St. Augustine says.

In concluding, I find myself moved to say: Yes, we are walking together, but our path leads us also “out of ourselves” toward our fellow men. It is said that Pope John XXIII wished this council to bring about a change from introverted self-concern to concern for men, from “in itself” to “for mankind.” Is there any better way for us to meet each other than by going out from ourselves in the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, without concern for our preferences or our merits, in order to live in the world and with men in the world? It is thus that we shall be truly disciples of the Christ who did not desire to exist for Himself but solely for the world.

We are grateful to Your Holiness, as to your predecessor, for having pointed to this twofold openness: openness to the ecumenical dialogue in truth and love, and openness to the world in humility and service.

May God bless Your Holiness in the heavy burden and responsibility of your ministry, and may He spread His Spirit of repentance and truth upon all the churches of the world.

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