The pontificate of John Paul II has been marked by an obvious preoccupation with the unity of the Church. He considered it a breach of his duty as Peter’s successor if he did not seek to promote the unity of Christians. Many concrete gestures were undertaken over the past twenty five years.
Right from his first encyclical, he indicated the importance of the dialogue between Christian churches, and each of his trips included an ecumenical aspect. He was the first pope to participate in an Anglican religious service and to pray with Lutheran leaders at St. Peter’s. In this sense, the commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenism is declared both “irreversible” and “irrevocable”.
The interfaith dialogue has also attracted a considerable amount of the Pope’s attention. Examples include the first visit of a Sovereign Pontiff to the Synagogue of Rome and the first visit to a mosque.
Among the many initiatives of the Pope to consolidate the ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, we should note the great prayer for peace that was held in Assisi on October 27, 1986. In Assisi, John Paul II welcomed on an equal footing representatives of 32 non Christian organizations and 28 Christian churches. It was in this way that he launched a great prayer movement for peace, a call to prayer that he has frequently renewed since.
In the midst of all of this, the Pope has always made it understood in his statements that all are called by the revelation of the Son of God to enter through the only door, and to follow the only way which is that of Christ. By doing so, he specifies to those of other religions that, “the full and complete revelation can only be found in the Son of God, in such a way that whoever is saved in other religions is saved by Jesus Christ.”
It is with exemplary courage that John Paul II recognizes the difficulty of bringing together the various streams of religious thought which are present in the world at the end of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st. He does not want differences and disagreements to be ignored. Obviously, work must be done to surpass them, but this work must be based on, “the awareness of being brothers.”
The following is a list of significant gestures on the part of John Paul II during his pontificate.
November 30, 1979 : First visit to Patriarch Dimitrios of Constantinople
May 29, 1982 : Ecumenical celebration in Canterbury Cathedral
December 11, 1983: First homily by a Pope in the Lutheran church of Rome
June 12, 1984: Visit to the world council of churches in Geneva
May 25, 1995: Encyclical Ut unum sint
October 31, 1999: Joint declaration on the doctrine of justification signed in Augsburg with the World Lutheran Federation
May 6, 2001: The Pope asks forgiveness from the Orthodox during a trip to Greece
October 27, 1986 : World day of prayer for peace in Assisi
October 25-28, 1999: Interfaith gathering at the Vatican with representatives from 50 countries and 20 different religious traditions
May 7, 2001: John Paul II visits a mosque for the first time (Damascus)
December 14, 2001: Day of fasting and prayer for peace (coinciding with the end of Ramadan)
January 24, 2002: Day of prayer for world peace in Assisi
Letter signed at the day’s conclusion and sent to all of the world’s heads of states and government leaders