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British cardinal: Suspicion, inertia, impatience damage ecumenism

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Catholic News Service

CHESTER, England (CNS) — A British cardinal encouraged Christians to overcome the “three enemies of ecumenism” and to pray for the progress of closer unity.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, said “suspicion, inertia and impatience” had damaged the ecumenical project.

The former co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission also told about 500 worshippers gathered in the Anglican cathedral in Chester that prayer and grass-roots initiatives were the best means of keeping the ecumenical dream alive.

British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, England. (CNS)

“To mend the ruptures of the past is a task that devolves on each one of us here this evening,” the cardinal said at the Jan. 22 service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“For too long we have lived, as it were, apart, and one of the joys of my years as a priest and bishop has been the growing friendship that has come amongst us,” he said.

“For when we meet together and pray together, the suspicions of the past dissolve, and we reach the heart of the ecumenical movement, which is a spiritual movement focused on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to whom we pray and in whom we reach the Father,” he said.

“And, of course, we overcome inertia by what we do together,” the cardinal added. “We can have many notional ideas of what we want to do, but do we actually do them? In every village and every town, everywhere, there ought to be some things which Christians are doing together.

“It may be a prayer group; it may be an expression of social concern for the poor and needy; it may be joint services, especially at key times such as today,” he said.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor also spoke of the urgent need for Christians to offer joint witness to the Gospel in the face of increasing secularism.

“Time and time again, together, we must proclaim, in season and out of season, the dignity of the human person made in the image of God from conception to the end of life,” the cardinal said.

“It means that, together, we reach out to the marginalized and to the poor,” he said. “It means to be focused, too, on the centrality of the family.”

“Our society is built up on the family and the communities that support the family,” the cardinal added. “And, above all, together we assert that our Christian faith and all that is implied in our belief in God is alive, active and relevant in today’s secular society.”

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, 79, was active in promoting Christian unity throughout his ministry, leading ARCIC from 1982 to 2000. He retired as archbishop of Westminster in 2009.

Anglican Bishop Peter Forster of Chester told Catholic News Service after the event that the “average Christian” underestimated the impact of disunity.

“Disunity in a party is a real turn-off at the ballot box,” he said. “It doesn’t quite carry over in the same terms in Christian terms, but there is a much greater negative effect on Christian witness of Christian disunity than we often realize.

“There is a lot of practical unity between Christians at a local level,” he added. “There is a hold-up at the institutional level for a variety of reasons. But I think that the advances in the last 50 years are real advances. They are in the bank, in a sense.”