Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, visited Chester to preach at the Anglican Cathedral during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Afterwards he gave an interview for the Lent/Easter 2012 edition of the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice to explain why Christians must stand together in our secular age.
Q. First of all, could you explain the importance of praying for Christian unity?
Cardinal: At the core of Christian unity is prayer because when we pray we pray to God in Jesus Christ and the closer we come to Jesus Christ the closer we are to each other. Spiritual ecumenism is at the heart of ecumenism. It is not just in signing papers of agreement, it’s really the spirituality, the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism and then impelling us through our union with Christ to be like his mind, which wants us to be more united.
Q. So why is unity so important to the New Evangelisation which Pope Benedict has placed at the top of his agenda?
Cardinal: Ecumenism is important because whatever we can do together there is an added strength to it. We can’t do everything together but there are many things we can do together and especially in our secular society today when there are many who would speak against religion and even against God, as it were, we need to make sure, Christians together, that belief in God and the transcendent is crucially important in order to have a humane and a hopeful society.
Religion, as it were, purifies the rationality. Without it, reason goes … belief in God brings another dimension altogether.
Q. Is there much hope for the ecumenical project given the apparently insurmountable obstacles to full unity? What is your vision for the future?
Cardinal: We have to concentrate on spiritual ecumenism, which is prayer together, wanting unity, working together in every way we possibly can, giving witness together n our secular society. The beliefs that unite us … are more important in some ways than what still divides us.
Yes, it has been much slower than we thought. We thought we would be in much fuller communion but I think when you think what it was like 50 years ago we have come a long way.
Q. So how do you see Christian unity developing in the decades ahead?
Cardinal: Well I think what is going to happen is that the spiritual ecumenism will increase and also the matters on which we can work together and witness together in British society will become more important because they effect all Christian bodies.
In other words, I suppose 50 or 100 years ago you could be pretty sure in this country that everyone believed in God or religion whether they practised it – Christianity – in a sense or not. Now it is different. Now we are a minority. But it (Christianity) is part of the culture of this country and I think that the more we put our voices together and our hearts together and we witness together the better.
Q. Does the Ordinariate have a role in fostering Christian unity?
Cardinal: I think the Ordinariate is there, because of the kindness of the Holy Father, for particular groups of Anglicans who want to come into fuller communion with the Church and want to keep some of their own traditions and that is fine, and I think that more and more they will be a normal part of the landscape of the Catholic Church and naturally they will want to be ecumenical.
Q. The Pope said that full and visible unity demands transformation and conformity to Christ. How would Christians obtain that?
Cardinal: You have got to go back to the sources. The Second Vatican Council said there is no ecumenism without interior conversion, newness of attitude and unstinted love. And those are the things that are crucial. We have got to change, to be more conformed to Christ by newness of attitude toward each other and above all love, by the love of God and the love of Christ.
Q. Does the quest for unity therefore demand something more than mere kindness and cooperation?
Cardinal: The quest for unity demands above all the spiritual aspect of prayer and closeness to Christ – that is crucial – and then also developing what we share together.
Q. So what can the Christians of this diocese and the Cheshire and Shropshire counties do to grow closer in unity?
Cardinal: In every village and town and city there will be certain things that Christians will say, ‘look, let’s get together to do this, and let’s have some prayer groups together, or whatever’.
Q. And what will be the positive fruits of that?
Cardinal: The positive fruits of that is, both in the local area, where Christians will feel more united, but through knowing each other, being friends with one another, praying together, they will be able to do certain things together in the local area, and showing people they are united.
Q. Does your experience in Chester today give you cause for optimism?
Cardinal: Well, I think it is great that so many people came. They seemed glad to be there with other Christians. That is very important. They want unity. They have to pray for unity and then to work harder for unity as a result of it.
(Photos of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor preaching in Chester Cathedral by Simon Caldwell, St Gabriel News and Media)