Pope says Christian unity advances with prayer, study, joint work

Pope Francis speaks to members of the Pauline Ecumenical Colloquium, an international and ecumenical group of New Testament scholars focused on the letters of St. Paul, during a meeting at the Vatican Sept. 14, 2023 (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

[Vatican City – CNS] – Scholars from different Christian churches who have studied together the New Testament letters of St. Paul are engaging in “courageous and prophetic work,” Pope Francis told them.

“If throughout history divisions have been a source of suffering, today we must commit ourselves to reversing course, moving forward on the paths of unity and fraternity, which begin precisely by praying, studying and working together,” the pope told the scholars during a meeting at the Vatican Sept. 14, 2023.

The Pauline Ecumenical Colloquium began in 1968, bringing experts in the letters of St. Paul together at the Benedictine abbey next to his burial place, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

Over the course of more than 50 years, members of the colloquium have published 24 volumes of papers looking at everything from “charism and agape” in First Corinthians to their latest, “Dying with Christ — New Life in Hope,” a study of themes in Romans 5:12-8:39.

The scholarship itself is important, the pope said, contributing to “the biblical and spiritual understanding of the letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles.”

But, he said, it is “all the more important since the discussions take place between different Christian denominations, and you yourselves, who are impassioned Pauline scholars, come from various nations, bringing with you not only the specific character of your studies, but also the distinctiveness of your culture of origin and the life of faith of the Christian communities to which you belong.”

Courage is needed to bring those distinctions to the table, he said, but also “‘ecumenical prophecy,’ that healthy ‘impatience of the Spirit’ to which all of us Christians are summoned, so that the journey toward the fullness of unity may progress and the commitment to bear witness may not weaken.”

The scholars currently are discussing and researching chapters 9-11 of the Letter to the Romans where, Pope Francis said, “we find an extraordinary exposition of the mystery of salvation that places the gifts and call of God to Israel, which the apostle describes as ‘irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29), in relationship, and thus in dialogue, with the hope of the Gospel.”

“The Apostle hands on to us a message of fundamental importance, which still represents that foundation on which not only to deepen biblical studies but also to continue to foster ecumenical dialogue: God does not fail in his promises of salvation and patiently carries them out, even in unexpected and surprising ways,” the pope said.

Encouraging the scholars to pursue their academic studies of the texts, Pope Francis also asked them to “also and above all else, let yourselves be amazed by the countless spiritual resources contained in the Pauline letters, in order to offer Christian communities new words able to communicate the Father’s merciful goodness, Christ’s newness of salvation and the Spirit’s renewing hope.”


© OSV News / Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. 2023 – from CNS Vatican bureau, used with permission