Catholic participation in Refo500 as fruit of ecumenical approach

Last Tuesday Bishop Gerard de Korte spoke at a press conference to signal the start of Refo500, a series of activities leading up to 2017 and the celebration of 500 years of Reformation. Msgr. de Korte is a member of the project group of the Catholic Society for Ecumenism that participates in Refo500 on behalf of the Catholic Church.

I shared my thought about the Catholic participation in Refo500 in an earlier post and in his address, Msgr. de Korte raises some similar points concerning the importance of not ignoring the things that still separate us and, at the same time, of working with those things we share. Another interesting point raised below is the ‘smell of home’, of Christianity as a cultural and social mark.

Refo500 and the ecumenism discussed here is sometimes particularly Dutch. The bishop’s references to ‘Gristus’ and ‘Kristus’, for example, refer to the particular pronunciation in Dutch of the name of Christ: most Protestant use the throaty [x] sound, whereas Catholic use the Latin version [k]. They’re minute differences that carry a raft of social and cultural connotations.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

In the past half century a lot has happened in ecumenism. The old walls between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians have been increasingly demolished. Yesterday’s papists and heretics have today become brothers and sisters in the one Lord. Personally I see this development as the work of God’s Spirit.

Of course there still are theological differences. Personally I think that many differences are concentrated around the topics of ‘sacramentality’ and especially around the concept of de Church, the sacrament, holy orders and Mary.

Besides theological differences the differences in the ‘smell of home’ are equally important for the average parishioner or the average community member. Our subcultures often still encourage mutual alienation. When a Protestant Christian speaks of ‘Gristus’ instead of ‘Kristus’ a Catholic senses a major distance. Likewise, Catholic usage of ‘Our Lord’ will be difficult for many Protestants.

It is not appropriate to deny or ignore all this. But we realise more and more our calling to search for unity. Only so do we answer the Lord’s desire that all His followers be one (cf. John 17). In th past half century we preferred to emphasise those things that Rome and the Reformation share instead of the things that still divide us. As a common heritage I mention Holy Scripture and the bond with God via the Scriptures; the Ten Commandments; the relationship with Jesus Christ, in Whom God revealed Himself in the fullness of time; the confessions of faith of the early Church; the confession of the Triune God and the theological and spiritual heritage of the first 1,500 years of the Church.

I consider the Catholic participation in Refo500 as fruit of the ecumenical movement. 500 years ago Roman Catholics and Protestant were often violently and irredeemably opposed. We even both used violence in name of our faith. But luckily we can now look back on the origins of Reformation in a more irenic atmosphere.

Historian and theologians from different traditions try to get a new and less biased  viewed on the time of the Reformation. En route to the Luther year in 2017, I hope to see many new historical and theological publications. In that way we can work on what Pope John Paul called “the purification of memory”.

But hopefully Refo500 won’t be just for historians and theologians. A clear view on the past can help every Christian in furthering ecumenical dialogue. In the Netherlands we live in a secular culture of the majority. Confessional Christians have become a minority. This further increases the importance of the ecumenical meeting between Christian of different backgrounds. Only when we continue to overcome our mutual divisions can we give a believable witness of Christ and His Gospel. We are facing the challenge to show that living in friendship with Christ make a real difference.

Msgr. Dr. G.J.N. De Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

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The above words were spoken at a press conference intended to promote Refo500, so they are naturally rather general and focussed on cooperation. I am personally quite interested to see how the Catholic identity becomes visible in the events. There are plans, it seems, for an exhibition about the Council of Trent, called in response to the Reformation and still very influential in the modern Church. That would be a very good element to include for the sake of creating a complete picture.

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