SEPARATED Churches cannot grow in holiness unless they grow in communion, Pope Francis told Roman Catholic and Methodist theologians at a gathering in Rome on Thursday.
The occasion was both to mark 50 years of Roman Catholic-Methodist dialogue, and to inaugurate the next five-year round of talks between the two Churches.
Members of the two Churches were no longer strangers, thanks to “those 50 years of patient, fraternal dialogue”, Pope Francis said. “We are, and we feel ourselves to be, members of the household of God.”
The Pope’s reference to holiness looked back to the first days of the International Catholic-Methodist Dialogue, when theologians from each side recognised a common commitment to individual spiritual growth. The first report, produced in Denver in 1971, spoke of “a call to personal sanctification, growth in holiness through daily life in Christ”.
The Pope linked this with the increasing number of joint social projects developed by the two Churches: “As a call to life in communion with God, the call to holiness is necessarily a call to communion with others, too.”
He also spoke about the purpose of dialogue: “True dialogue gives us the courage to encounter one another in humility and sincerity, in an effort to learn from one another, and in a spirit of honesty and integrity.
“We are brothers and sisters who, following a long separation, are happy once mor to see and learn about one another, and to move forward with open hearts. So let us advance together, knowing that our journey is blessed by the lord.”
The Pope also cited the founder of Methodism: “John Wesley sought to help his neighbours live a holy life. . . When we see others living a holy life, when we recognise the workings of the Holy Spirit in other Christian confessions, we cannot fail to rejoice.”
Later on Thursday, the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, which was home to the ecumenical observers during the Second Vatican Council, hosted two short lectures by Dr Clare Watkins, a Roman Catholic academic from Roehampton University, and Gillian Kingston, the vice-chair of the World Methodist Council.
They both spoke of holiness as the common ground that had first brought the two Churches together 50 years ago. More recently, there had been an appreciation of the advances made when the two Churches worked together, particularly in social programmes such as foodbanks and anti-slavery initiatives.
The International Catholic-Methodist Commission “has never been about talk, talk, talk”, Ms Kingston said. “It’s been about walk, walk, walk.”
There was, therefore, much convergence, Dr Watkins said. But she spoke, too, of the energy generated when they had discussed areas of divergence as well as convergence, on such topics as authority, ministry, and the sacraments.
During questions, the lecturers and the co-chairs of the dialogue were asked about eucharistic sharing, in the context of Pope Francis’s remark to a Lutheran/RC couple that it was, essentially, up to their consciences.
The speakers were careful not to condone “rule-breaking”, but expressed a range of views about eucharistic hospitality (as opposed to sharing). There was a difference between breaking rules and “pushing boundaries”.