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Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Kurt Koch spoke on Thursday at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, telling members of the council that divisions within Christianity further inhibit evangelism.
Previous to the plenary meeting, president of the council Cardinal Koch said that "the credibility of the message of the Gospel depends on unity."
"The division of the church in the world is the biggest obstacle for mission activity in the world," Koch told Vatican Radio shortly before the meeting took place.
In his opening speech to the council meeting, which was entitled "The Importance of Ecumenism for New Evangelization," Cardinal Koch told attendees that in modern times, Christians are quickly becoming divided on social and ethical issues, especially concerning the sanctity of life, and that their division is only weakening Christianity.
"If the churches and Christian communities are not able to speak with one voice in the face of the great ethical problems of our age, that will harm Christian ecumenism and the credibility of the new evangelization," Cardinal Koch warned, as reported by the Catholic News Service.
Cardinal Koch pointed to previous societies where religion has become weakened, thus ushering in a dangerous loss of moral compass and respect for human dignity.
The cardinal specifically referenced the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust in 1940s Nazi Germany, as well as former Soviet control of Ukraine, in which public churches were silenced and replaced with government power. Koch claimed that, as a result, respect for human life was lost.
He asserted to Vatican Radio that although differences between Christians regarding ethical issues may not be solved, all Christians may still "give witness of [their] faith and witness of the Gospel that is needed in the society […] We can give witness together, which is a grave challenge today."
Following Cardinal Koch, Pope Benedict XVI additionally highlighted the importance of unity among Christians, pointing specifically to the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on religious unity.
"As you know the Council Fathers tried to emphasize the close link between the task of evangelizing and overcoming the divisions among Christians," Benedict told members of the council, as reported by Rome Reports.
Pope Benedict added that although it is possibly unrealistic to expect a completely unified Christian Church, the differences between Christian denominations will "allow us to become aware not only of resistance and obstacles, but also of the richness of experiences, spirituality and theological reflections that can become a stimulus for an ever deeper witness."
Wednesday's plenary meeting is a follow up of the Vatican-sponsored October Synod regarding ecumenism and the New Evangelization movement in the Roman Catholic Church.
During the synod's three-week convention, bishops in attendance found that addressing the divide among Christians and its threat to evangelism was of the utmost importance.