Monday, 15 July 2019: Message of Bishop Mgr Mario Grech during an Ecumenical Meeting, at Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary, Għarb, Gozo.
MARY, MOTHER OF UNITY
I had a deep yearning that during this Marian year I meet other non-Catholic Christians living in Gozo. I believe that in today’s age, it is essential that we Christians seek each other to firstly sustain ourselves as we follow Christ and also to be as witnesses to the world around us. I am convinced that many in our midst are seeking that which can fill their hearts and in this quest they ask both philosophical and theological questions. As neighbours living on the same island, I believe, that albeit our limitations, we Christians have a significant proposition that we can offer them.
With this in mind, recently I have set up an ecumenical commission in Gozo. Even though I took this initiative in my role as Catholic bishop, I do not have any claim of authority on the work of this commission. It is my wish that we create a forum where we Christian brothers and sisters help each other when facing the existential crises that surround us. It is my ardent desire that this Commission incorporates representatives from all Christian denominations present on the island.
On this occasion, I suggest that we meditate the icon of the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. This scene is resonant with profound meaning because in it we can see that God’s promise to his chosen people is finally happening, even, if, at this stage, the waiting is still hidden in a process of gestation. The two women, Mary and Elizabeth, represent two periods of the history with God – two periods in the history of the Church. Between them, there is no confrontation, disparagement or discord but on the other hand, there is a harmonious sentiment of intent listening, collaboration and growth. These two women bless and help each other.
The story of the visitation thus helps us to appreciate the gift of ecumenism as the movement that brings the various Christian churches closer to each other to share their respective theological, liturgical and spiritual legacies. For example, I have a longing that we understand the Anglican and Orthodox Mariology. Whilst it is true that this can be easily done by going through books, I am convinced that no book can compare to the real-life experience of faith and love that you live. “It is the very aim of the “dialogues” to enable one to discern the differences in them that could separate them out from those which are acceptable or which even constitute an enrichment for every Church. In this encounter there could be a divine surprise! As between Elizabeth and Mary, the Churches have experienced in ecumenical dialogue the help offered by the Holy Spirit who makes it possible to recognize the faith that leads to the heart of Jesus as Christ and Lord in the other Church too, a true and just faith, expressed with different words and coherences” (Elisabeth Parmentier, An image of Ecumenism”, L’Osservatore Romano 2, May, 2016).
We ceaselessly pray that Mary helps us in this fresh ecumenical experience that we are launching in Gozo. One crucial insight that the Catholic Church acquired during Vatican Council II was that Mary is not only the Mother of God, but she is also a disciple of Christ. Her life was a pilgrimage of faith and thus she is our sister in our discipleship as we follow Jesus. The motto that we have chosen for this Marian year – Let us not be afraid to welcome Mary into our lives – aptly fits our ecumenical course. She, who is the Mother of unity amongst Christians, will lead us to stronger relations amongst ourselves. “Just as Mary’s presence in the early community fostered oneness of heart, which prayer strengthened and made visible (cf. Acts 1:14), so the most intense communion with her whom Augustine called the ‘Mother of unity’ (Sermo 192, 2; PL 38, 1013) will be able to bring Christians to the point of enjoying the long-awaited gift of ecumenical unity” (John Paul II, 12th Nov., 1997).