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E Civitate Vaticana, die
PROT. N. 2956/2003/h
1 July 2003

Message of Cardinal Walter Kasper

to the 2nd International Gathering of the Association of Interchurch Families
Mondo Migliore, July 24-28, 2003

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 which 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



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