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This article was published in the January 2004 issue of The Journal.

A message addressed by Cardinal Kasper,

President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,

to the Second World Gathering of Interchurch Families

The Rome Gathering was delighted to receive a message from Cardinal Kasper, who was in Canada at the Lutheran World Assembly at the time of the meeting. Participants were particularly pleased that Mgr Eleuterio Fortino from the Pontifical Council was able to come to Mondo Migliore to present the Message, since Mgr Fortino has been very closely associated with the Council’s work on mixed marriages over many years.

Always rejoice
In an unscripted introduction Mgr Fortino recalled that forty years earlier he had made his retreat before his ordination to the diaconate there at Mondo Migliore. He remembered the words of the retreat director: ‘Always remain in the joy of the Lord!’, and he urged interchurch families never to lose that joy, in the conviction that Christ is with us and is guiding us. Mixed couples have a founded reason to rejoice , because they profess together faith in the Trinity and in Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour. They rejoice for the salvation they have received and for the transmisson of the same faith to their children. Keep that joy as you study the questions that face the Church of Christ today, he said. Surely we have not yet realised all the consequences of our common faith for our life and society. There are indeed problems of division, both theological and disciplinary; but the ecumenical dialogue is a movement, called to change the present situation.

In Ut Unum Sint Pope John Paul II showed how this dialogue has made extraordinary progress, and insisted that it must continue. But dialogue does not only mean Joint Commissions and meetings of church representatives; it is more general, including the work of research institutes and also of groupings such as interchurch families. Then new things can arise.

In his latest encyclical Pope John Paul II quoted Ut Unum Sint, repeating his ardent desire to celebrate the one eucharist; this remains the final objective of all dialogue. You will see in Cardinal Kasper’s message that progress here is not simply a question of norms, but the wider one of the progress of the dialogues. It is becoming possible to find pastoral solutions in respect of particular people. The Pontifical Council works with the Bishops when they come for their ad limina visits.

Finally Mgr Fortino recalled his ‘ecumenical baptism’ which had taken place 39 years previously, at the theological course held at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, near Geneva. About eighty people took part, mainly Protestants; there were just four Roman Catholics, three priests and a laywoman. The four had to take their turn in preparing a denominational worship service. He remembered they had joked that three and a half people were doing it, because the lay

[It may be that this early recognition that married couples are ‘one person’ across denominational divisions, one ‘domestic church’, has inspired Mgr Fortino in his work for mixed marriages ever since!]

The text of Cardinal Kasper’s Message

Grace and peace to you in the Father, who has made marriage a covenant of life and love, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is present in that love, and in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity who draws that human love into the divine life of the Trinity.

I wish I could have been present to greet you in person, but unfortunately that is not possible. I must commend you for your courage at the outset, for it is only courageous souls who come to bear the heat of Rome in July.

You are not a problem
I noted in your preparatory paper for this conference the statement that ‘in the past, interchurch families were often treated as a problem.’ You probably know Gabriel Marcel’s famous statement that ‘life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.’ I assure you that I do not greet those of you today who are in mixed marriages as a ‘problem’, but as people who in your marriages live – in many different ways – a concrete experience, an experience of sharing in the covenant between husband and wife which binds you ever more deeply in unity, while at the same time holding something of the painful divisions of Christianity within that unity.

On the one hand, each of your families is ‘a community of love and life’, a ‘school of communion’, the ‘primary place in which unity will be fashioned or weakened each day.’ Many of you share in what the Catholic Church understands to be a sacramental marriage; in this you share in a ‘great mystery’, which expresses the spousal love of Christ for the Church, and which is called to radiate the Gospel of Christ. On the other hand, in your marriages, husband and wife have been formed in and belong to different ecclesial communions, which are not in full communion with each other. You are not a problem, but you are living in the midst of the serious problem of the divisions within Christianity; in your marriages you have to face this problem daily, and face it with integrity.

Live your identity faithfully and creatively
I know that this experience you are living carries both opportunities and struggles. Where both husband and wife strive to be faithful to their respective Christian communities, the importance of our churches and ecclesial communities growing together, the pain of our division, the sense of urgency to recover full visible unity, and the hope and prayer which sustain the ecumenical movement, are all experienced in their depths.

Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (n.78), wrote that ‘marriages between Catholics and other baptized persons... contain numerous elements that could well be made good use of and developed, both for their intrinsic value and for the contribution that they can make to the ecumenical movement. This is particularly true when both parties are faithful to their religious duties.’ While not turning a blind eye to the serious challenges which can be faced by interchurch families, the main thrust in this text looks to your marriages in terms of their intrinsic value, and invites reflection on the contributions you can make to the respective churches to which you belong – by being who you are, and living that identity faithfully and creatively.

Your preparatory paper speaks of families embodying ‘a love that is not simply content with a parallel separate existence, but which yearns for, and therefore promotes, growth into deeper and deeper unity.’ Interchurch couples provide an ongoing impetus to the ecumenical movement, and keep us from acquiescing in our differences. Mixed marriages have an important role to play in ecumenical relations, and in our ecclesial lives.

An exchange of gifts
The Ecumenical Directory (n.66 b) speaks of mixed marriage families as having ‘the delicate task of making themselves builders of unity.’ In this regard, permit me to offer you three brief thoughts. Firstly, it seems to me that interchurch families have something to teach us in terms of an ecumenical exchange of gifts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n.1634) speaks of the importance of placing in common what you have received from your respective communities, and learning from each other ‘the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ.’ You are uniquely situated to help the churches better see the authentic gifts which are to be found in and received from each other.

Spiritual ecumenism
Secondly, you have an important contribution to make in terms of spiritual ecumenism, which is the heart of the ecumenical movement. In addressing mixed marriage families during his visit to England in 1982, Pope John Paul noted: ‘You live in your marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity. Express that hope in prayer together, in the unity of love. Together invite the Holy Spirit of love into your hearts and into your homes.’ Praying together, reading and pondering the Scriptures together, encouraging others to do so, will have an effect within and beyond your families.

Communion in mission
Thirdly, in our present ecumenical context, wherein we have achieved a great deal over the last forty years and yet still have a long way to go in the restoration of full visible unity, we speak increasingly of the importance of communion in mission, to the extent that our shared faith makes that possible. As interchurch families, you are already engaged in a common mission, the mission of living deeply the covenant of love which binds you together. As churches and ecclesial communities seek increasingly to engage in common mission, we would have much to learn from the communion in mission reflected in your marriages and families.

The Pontifical Council encourages you
Finally, I would take this opportunity to speak a special word of encouragement specifically to those mixed marriages where either the husband or wife is a Catholic. I want to assure you that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has an ongoing and heartfelt concern for all of you. The Ecumenical Directory’s section on mixed marriages, lacking in the previous edition of the Directory, is one expression of that concern. Faithfulness to the guidelines set forth therein, especially pertaining to eucharistic sharing, will at times mean that you will feel more intensely the pain of division. The pain arises not from the current norms, but from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. Our ongoing dialogues, however, do give us grounds for hope. If they can broaden the foundations of our common faith, this would help us to take further steps towards the full visible unity we seek. While we continue to strive for that unity, it is our hope and prayer that your faithfulness, your patience, your efforts, will be an integral part of the healing process of the reconciliation that Christ calls us to and desires.

We appreciate that one of the aims of the Association of Interchurch Families is to work with the churches for Christian unity, and are encouraged that you see yourselves as called to become signs and instruments of the visible unity we seek. At the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, we would be most pleased to receive a report of your Gathering, and will study the issues and concerns you discuss with care.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Walter Cardinal Kasper
President