1. The modern ecumenical movement has always been closely linked to political, social and cultural developments. Indeed, the processes of colonization and decolonization raised missionary questions which were at the very origin of ecumenism; the fall of the Russian and Ottoman empires and the migrations which followed gave rise to new contacts between Christians of the East and of the West; the First and Second World Wars prompted Christians to face global challenges together; and, more recently, the changing geography of Christianity following the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of the South has also called for new ecumenical developments.
2. There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic, with its tragic global consequences in the political, economic, social, cultural and religious spheres, and in general its effect on all human activity, will be one of the historic developments that will shape the ecumenical journey. Christians of all traditions have been forced to take unprecedented measures that have profoundly affected their life of faith and their relationships, such as the closure of religious buildings and the cancellation of in-person liturgies, even for Easter and for funerals. Yet the pandemic has also been an opportunity to rediscover some essential dimensions of the Christian faith, such as the centrality of the Word of God, the communal dimension of faith and the “domestic Church”. The crisis has raised difficult questions for all Christians such as: What is the correct Christian understanding of the pandemic? How to celebrate the liturgy and the sacraments while respecting social distance? How can the Gospel be proclaimed and heard in a context of confinement? How can the Church continue to provide pastoral care to those in need? How can religious freedom be safeguarded within the framework of restrictive public health measures? How to maintain ecumenical communion?
3. The crisis will be a turning point in the history of humanity, not only because of the effects of the pandemic, but also because it has accelerated the emergence of the “digital age”. The global digitalization process has also clearly affected the Ecumenical Movement, which has been challenged and transformed by the emergence of new forms of communication and communion. This process has raised ecclesiological questions, such as: How do new forms of communication influence ecclesial communion? What do the new forms of koinonia experienced within and between churches mean for church life? What is the significance of “virtual” communion in the search for “real” and fully visible unity?
4. The activities of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have also been deeply affected by the pandemic: visits and trips have been cancelled, some international dialogues have been suspended and most of its meetings and those of its partners dialogue have been postponed or moved online. However, some dialogues have discovered new ways of working, meeting more frequently, sometimes in smaller drafting or planning groups; some documents have even been finalized and approved online and new initiatives of online spiritual ecumenism have been tested.
5. In order to better reflect on this experience and on the aforementioned questions, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity sought to inquire about local experiences and reflections. As Professor Joseph Ratzinger said in 1972 on the occasion of a meeting of ecumenical delegates organized by the then Secretariat for Christian Unity: “Local ecumenism is not only an executive body centralized ecumenism at the top, but rather an original form of ecumenism and an independent starting point for theological reflections” (PCPCU Information Service 20 , p. 4). These words are particularly significant at a time when the Catholic Church is engaged in a synodal process starting from the local context.
6. On January 19, 2021, a questionnaire was sent to the ecumenical leaders of all Catholic Episcopal Conferences and Eastern Catholic Synods. The survey, titled “Understanding Church Communion in a Time of Social Distancing,” and available in five languages (English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish), asked questions about: 1. local reflection on theological issues and ecclesiological concerns raised by the pandemic; 2. the new opportunities offered by the pandemic; 3. the possibilities of drawing inspiration from other Christian communions; 4. new issues or tensions resulting from the responses of different churches to the pandemic; and 5. The impact on the work of the joint dialogue commissions.
7. Out of 142 questionnaires, the PCPCU received 88 responses from all continents: 39 from Europe, 16 from Africa, 14 from America, 13 from Asia, 4 from the Middle East and North Africa and 2 from Oceania, 6 of which were sent by Eastern Catholic Synods (Chaldean, Syriac-Catholic, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankar, Greek-Catholic Ukrainian and Greek-Catholic Slovak). The sources used for these responses vary: while most of them are a summary of the situation at the national and regional levels, some include the reports of individual dioceses (Australia, Nordic countries, Conference of Latin Bishops of India), and others also rely on surveys and academic studies (Ireland and Scotland). Responses were generally broad and frank, and appreciated the initiative. In the spirit of synodality, the project provided an opportunity to strengthen collaboration between PCPCU and Episcopal ecumenical leaders. Prepared in collaboration with the Institute for Ecumenical Studies of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, this working document was drafted on the basis of the responses and sent to all PCPCU members and consultors, who discussed during its Plenary Assembly on November 10, 2021, then submitted to all the Episcopal Conferences. The PCPCU expresses its deepest gratitude to all those who offered their invaluable contribution to this initiative.
8. This working paper offers a synthesis of bishops’ responses to the PCPCU survey on the impact of the pandemic on ecumenism, offering a Catholic perspective at the global level. It does not claim to answer all the related questions or even formulate them, but is intended as a first contribution to reflection on the subject. Drawing on the local experience of Catholic Episcopal Conferences, it echoes their perspectives and quotes extensively from their reports in their original form – translating into French those written in other languages. Even if he offers some preliminary theological considerations, his approach is above all pastoral. Aimed primarily at Episcopal Conferences, but also at scholars of ecumenical studies and all those working in the field of ecumenism, it is published in the hope that it will also foster further reflection and stimulate dialogue. at all levels with other Christians.
9. This working document has three sections. A first section reports on the opportunities offered by the pandemic to strengthen and renew relationships between Christians. The second, on the contrary, focuses on the negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis on ecumenism. The final section identifies ecumenical issues that challenge all Christians, as well as specific challenges facing the ecumenical movement during the pandemic and in a post-pandemic world.
1. A “Hidden Blessing” [10-49]
1.1. be one family [11-20]
1.2. New Opportunities: Pray, Work and Reflect Together [21-39]
1.3. Ecumenism in the digital age [40-49]
2. Differences highlighted by the pandemic [50-61]
2.1. Highlighted theological and liturgical differences [51-54]
2.2. A different understanding of the pandemic 
2.3. Different attitudes towards public health restrictions [56-61]
3. Common issues and challenges for the future [62-78]
3.1. Ecumenical issues [64-74]
3.2. Questions to ecumenism: a digital ecumenism? [75-78]
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