By Inmaculada Álvarez
LOURDES, France, SEPT. 25, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Devotion to the Virgin Mary has an essential role in ecumenical dialogue and the journey to full and visible unity among Christians, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Cardinal Walter Kasper affirmed this Wednesday when he presided over an ecumenical celebration in Lourdes, where Anglicans and Catholics had joined on pilgrimage. Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury gave the homily at the event. The pilgrimage began at the Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England.
“Lourdes is known for its miracles,” Cardinal Kasper said. “Who would have imagined, only 20 or 30 years ago, that Catholics and Anglicans would go on pilgrimage and pray together?
“For those who are familiar with the debates and controversies of the past on Mary, between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, for those who know the reservations of the non-Catholic world toward Marian pilgrimage sites, for all these people, today’s unprecedented event is a miracle.”
The cardinal contended that, in fact, Mary is an essential part of the ecumenical movement, though this topic “is neither common nor obvious among ecumenists.”
Cardinal Kasper noted that Marian devotion is fully shared with the Orthodox Church. But, he continued, “Marian devotion also existed at the time of the Reformation.”
“Luther fervently venerated Mary during his whole life, professing her, with the ancient creeds and Councils of the Church of the first millennium, as Virgin and Mother of God,” he explained. “He was only critical of some practices, which he considered abuses and exaggerations. The same happened with the English reformers.”
Cardinal Kasper clarified that the rejection of Marian doctrines actually took place during the Enlightenment, “in a spirit known as ‘Mariological minimalism.'”
Nevertheless, the Vatican official affirmed, thanks to “a renewed reading and meditation of sacred Scripture, we observe a slow but decisive change.” In this regard, he mentioned several joint statements of Catholics and Lutherans that point in this direction.
“Mary is not absent but present in ecumenical dialogue,” he continued. “Churches have made progress in their approach on the doctrine of Our Lady. Our Lady no longer divides us, but reconciles and unites us in Christ her Son.”
Cardinal Kasper expressed the hope that Our Lady would help Catholics and Anglicans overcome recently heightened tensions in dialogue. The Anglican Communion has moved closer to the episcopal ordination of women and it faces dissent within the communion regarding the ordination of practicing homosexuals.
The cardinal said the pilgrimage “can be considered as a positive and encouraging sign of hope, even a small miracle.”
“There is reason to hope that Our Lady will help us overcome the present difficulties in our relations, so that with the help of God we will be able to continue our common ecumenical pilgrimage,” he continued.
Cardinal Kasper referred to Mary as model of the Church, chosen by God from all eternity. He also noted the issue of salvation by divine grace and not by ones’ own merits, clarifying that this is a point that no longer divides Christians.
Led to the cross
The Vatican official asserted that division among Christians arises “because our love and faith have weakened.”
“Every time that the thinking of the world and its parameters stain the Church, the unity of the Church is endangered,” he said.
But Mary, who he called an “example of a disciple,” does not lead toward “what pleases everyone, but to the foot of the cross,” he said. “Hence, let us take her as example, and in this way we will take steps forward in our ecumenical pilgrimage.”
Finally, Cardinal Kasper referred to the question of the veneration of the Virgin and the saints, an issue that “still causes difficulties” among Protestants and Anglicans. “However,” he affirmed, “as any mother would intercede for her children, and as every mother, after her death would intercede in heaven and from heaven, Mary also accompanies the Church on her pilgrimage,” also “on the road toward unity.”