When the Catholic Church uses the term ecumenism (or ecumenical), it refers to those who have been baptised into Christís body the Church. This understanding aids Church leaders to maintain their focus on ecumenism as serving the unity of Christís Church. Although Christian Unity and the search for it are, necessarily, realisations of the unity of all creation and all humanity in Christ, the task of the ecumenical ministry of the Church is our reconciliation with other Christians. Ecumenism, therefore, does not primarily address the relationship between the Catholic Church and the great religions of the world.
Interfaith or Inter-religious Dialogue (proper terms for furthering mutual understanding on the relationship between Christians and people of other faiths) is closely linked to ecumenism in the search for Unity and is very important in the ministry of the Church as it seeks to give greater witness to the global world community. However, it would be less than appropriate to invite non-Christians to a parish group concerned with ecumenical faith-sharing, pastoral service or evangelisation. Faith-sharing, spiritual ecumenism activities. and much other ecumenical work in parishes are designed specifically for Christians and these web pages of guidance and resources have been designed especially for the ecumenical participation of Catholics and other baptised Christians.
Nevertheless, there is much that Christians and people in other faiths can work on together, not least peace and social justice, as well as shared spiritual and ethical values. Furthermore, the ecumenical orientation of the Catholic Church towards Christian Unity derives from our belief in one God, who is creator of the universe and whose Son assumed the nature of all humanity. So we cannot understand Christís desire for Christian Unity without understanding the unity of all humanity in the charity and truth of Christ.
Catholic-Jewish Dialogue in the Diocese of Westminster
So the Diocese has always recognised the special nature of the dialogue with the Jewish people which is different from the dialogue with other faiths. In a sense we have a tri-focal understanding of humanityís religions: the community of the baptized, the Jews, and other religions. This is because of our reverence for the Covenant which God made with the Jewish people, which we believe has never been revoked. For this reason, as fellow children in faith of Abraham, Catholics the world over prayer for the Jewish people on Good Friday, when we recall the death of our Saviour Jesus, himself a Jew and a rabbi. It is not often realised that traditionally one of the days of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was kept as an occasion of prayer for the sanctification of the Jewish people. Nowadays in Rome, a day of prayer for Catholic-Jewish friendship and dialogue is observed every year on 17th January, the day prior to the Week of Prayer itself.
Our Diocese is very well placed to develop dialogue with the Jewish people. The London area boasts the highest population of Jewish people in the UK. Since the Second Vatican Council and the ground-breaking document Nostra Aetate in 1965, the Sisters of Sion have been entrusted with the task of keeping alive the scriptural teaching that Godís covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked (Romans 11:27). From their Sion Centre for Dialogue and Encounter in Notting Hill, with its specialist Christian-Jewish library and educational resources, they have helped clergy and lay people understand the Churchís new attitude to Judaism and fostered love and respect for the Jewish tradition. The Sisters forged links with the local Jewish community, attending courses in Judaism and Hebrew and most importantly, developing friendships with Jews. From their house at 34 Chepstow Villas, W11, they offer help and advice to priests, teachers and anyone interested in Christian-Jewish Relations and welcome students and lecturers to use the library. They are also available for outreach work in parishes, schools and colleges. From time to time meetings have been arranged by the Sisters of Sion between the Heythrop students and the rabbinic students at Leo Baeck College in Finchley.
Many Catholic parishes are in areas of high Jewish population and some have taken advantage of this by arranging joint meetings or events. One parish has carried out joint action with the local Jewish community by providing a soup kitchen for the homeless in their area. Many Catholic schools take their children to visit their local synagogue as part of their lessons on Judaism and some invite a member of the local Jewish community to speak to the children. Local initiatives such as these need to be nurtured so that Catholic and Jewish leaders and their members can develop relationships of trust and respect. Friendship is a good basis on which dialogue can be built and then nourished with sound theology and a good understanding of and sensitivity towards scripture.
Catholic-Interfaith Dialogue in the Diocese of Westminster
At Heythrop College there is an important academic institution, the Centre for Christianity and Inter-Religious Dialogue. With research, teaching, conferences and publications, it provides a forum for the study and practice of encounter between Christianity and the other major religious traditions, their cultures and traditions. Through meetings and publications it aims to improve the quality of engagement. Through courses and seminars, too, it strives to take the conversation forward amongst scholars, researchers, writers, journalists and religious leaders.
Closely associated with the Centre is the work of Westminster Interfaith, founded in 1986 by Brother Daniel Faivre, who died in 2007. He made the teachings of the Vatican Council II on interfaith dialogue readily accessible to people in the diocese and nationally. Cardinal Basil Hume made Westminster Interfaith an agency of the diocese in the early 1990s. Concern for interfaith dialogue and inter-religious encounter are important aspects of the ecumenical journey. Prayer for Christian Unity concentrates on the person of Christ and union with him. From the outset of the Week of Prayer the hope for unity has been cast in the hope for the sanctification of all Catholics, all Christians, all believers in God and the sanctification of the whole world as it returns to its Creator, searching in charity, peace and truth. So no prayer for the Church, or for unity among Christians can leave out prayer for the world and those in other faiths who also seek the living God.