Rome Newsroom, Jan 19, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).
Under the shadow of the war in Ukraine, this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an opportunity for Christians to work together to achieve peace, according to a Vatican cardinal.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that he is praying this week that “we can re-find peace between Christians in Ukraine.”
In an interview with EWTN News on Jan. 18, the cardinal explained how the Ukraine war has created a “very difficult situation” for ecumenical dialogue because there are “many tensions and divisions in the Orthodox world.”
“I think we have, with this war in Ukraine, a very difficult situation, because Christians kill Christians, and above all Orthodox kill Orthodox. And this is a very bad and sad message for the world because the Christians have the duty and the responsibility to be engaged for peace,” Koch said.
“Religion cannot be part of the problem of war but must be part of reconciliation and peace.”
Cardinal Koch said the Catholic Church is working to “re-find unity” amid the tensions and divisions in the Orthodox world through dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox.
“And now we have many, many tensions and divisions in the Orthodox world, and this is a difficulty. For instance, we have an international and mixed commission between the Catholic Church and all the Orthodox churches, but the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t participate in this dialogue,” he said.
Koch explained that the Russian Orthodox Church pulled out of commission after the Orthodox Church of Ukraine declared its autocephaly, or hierarchical independence, in 2019.
“And when the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t participate in this dialogue, this is a challenge,” he added.
The cardinal underlined that the Vatican is working to keep the door open for dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate, despite the difficulties.
“But for us, it is very important that we can continue the relations with the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow. But it is a very difficult situation, because we have the impression that the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate sustains this war, and we have another vision, as said by the Holy Father … that this is nonsense, this war. But we must keep open the door for relations and to deepen what is possible,” he said.
The Catholic Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is taken from Isaiah 1:17: “Do good; seek justice.”
The 56th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began Jan. 18 and will continue with daily ecumenical prayers until the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25, when Pope Francis will preside over an ecumenical prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
On the first day of the week of prayer, Koch reflected how Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Africa reflects the “common work” for reconciliation and peace shared by the Catholic Church, the Anglican World Communion, and the Presbyterian Church in England.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit South Sudan from Feb. 3–5 for a visit that he is calling “a pilgrimage of peace” to the African country that has long struggled to implement peace agreements to end violence between armed groups and military forces.
The pope has desired for many years to make a trip to South Sudan together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland. A previously scheduled papal trip to South Sudan with Welby was canceled in 2017 due to security concerns, and the current trip was rescheduled for 2023 after it was postponed last summer due to Francis’ knee problems.
Koch sees a message of hope in the upcoming trip. He said: “This apostolic visit of the Holy Father in South Sudan will be a common pilgrimage between the archbishop of Canterbury, Welby, and the president of the Presbyterian Church in England and the pope because all these churches are engaged to re-find reconciliation in this country.”
“And this is a very beautiful sign that all the churches collaborate together for re-finding peace in this very difficult situation.”