Pope Francis is impatient for there to be more progress towards Christian unity.  He admitted this in a letter published to mark the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s landmark encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint.

The letter, written to Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Council for the Promoting of Christian Unity, echoed John Paul’s teaching document in encouraging Christians to keep in mind the progress already made but also “to scan the horizon”. And Pope Francis asks with Ut Unum sint: “Quanta est nobis via?”; that is, “How much further do we have to travel?” 

Ut Unum Sint confirmed irrevocably the commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenism and was published on Ascension Day, May 25 1995, placing it under the sign of the Holy Spirit. It was the first ever encyclical dedicated to ecumenism.

Pope Francis wrote to Cardinal Koch: “I give thanks to the Lord for the journey he has allowed us to travel as Christians in quest of full communion. I too share the healthy impatience of those who sometimes think that we can and should do more.”

He went on to comment that many steps had been taken in the years since the Second Vatican Council “to heal the wounds of centuries and millennia. Mutual knowledge and esteem have grown and helped to overcome deeply rooted prejudices. Theological dialogue and the dialogue of charity have developed, as well as various forms of cooperation in the dialogue of life, at both the pastoral and cultural level”.

He also urges Christians to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus and recognize Christ in the breaking of bread, while “we await the day when we shall share the Eucharistic table together”.

Pope Francis also expressed his gratitude for the work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and mentions two recent initiatives of the Council. The first is a new Ecumenical Vademecum [guidebook] for Bishops which is due to be published this autumn. A new journal Acta Œcumenica is also being launched which is designed to renew the dicastery’s Information Service and “assist all who work in the service of unity”.

Ut Unum Sint made a strong link with not only with the Second Vatican Council but with Pope John XXIII who called it. Its title – meaning ‘that they be one’ – Christ’s prayer for his dsciples – were the last words that John XXIII uttered on his deathbed in 1963.

 The letter can be read in full here