by Timothy Elphick
POPE John Paul II joined forces with Anglican and Protestant leaders in Rome this week to commit the churches of Europe to work together to spread the gospel, and to ask God's forgiveness for the divisions within Christianity.
At a special ecumenical prayer service in St Peter's Basilica to mark the end of the first week of the bishops' Synod on Europe, the Pope said the future of the continent depended on greater cooperation between peoples and nations.
"In the Europe which is moving towards political unity, can we allow the church of Christ itself to be a factor of division and discord? Would this not be one of the greatest scandals of our time?" asked John Paul.
The gospel demands of truth and love must be clear for all to see in relations between Christian churches in every corner of Europe, the Pope said.
"Truth and love presuppose a frank recognition of the facts, together with a readiness to forgive and make amends for our respective mistakes. They prevent us from making groundless accusations against our brother, attributing to him intentions and aims he does not have," he said.
The Pope's remarks came as bishops at the Synod sent a special message to the heads of state meeting in Maastricht to discuss the future role of the European Community, lending their support to closer ties between member states and expressing their concern at the failure of peace talks on Yugoslavia.
Cardinal Cahal Daly, Archbishop of Armagh, said the message was being sent "as a gesture of human and Christian solidarity".
"More than ever the people of Europe want unity and would like their political structures to be more alike. We assure you that Christians, more than ever, wish to be the servants and witnesses of unity," the message said.
The Synod was addressed by Dr Mark Santer, Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission
(ARCIC) and a "fraternal delegate" at the gathering, responding to the Vatican's longawaited reaction to ARCIC I (Catholic Herald December 6).
"The most serious obstacle to the restoration of communion between divided Christians is not divergent doctrines but the breach of communion itself. Once separated, ecclesial communities develop different cultures which are extraordinarily difficult to reconcile in for instance spirituality, in the way authority is exercised and in the way the Christian community relates to the secular world," Bishop Santer said.
American Cardinal William Baum, a former prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, condemned what he described as "theological dissent", warning against "the work of the devil in the history of man".
And Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the Synod: "The church does not announce a series of dogmas and precepts as if it were a yoke for man. It announces God."