Seeds of Revolution
In olden days, to be Christian was to be Catholic. (Except for the Orthodox, who were in the special case of schism.) So it made sense to say things like "outside of the Church there is no salvation."
As the centuries rolled by, this certitude showed a dark side. The Church tolerated no deviance from its teachings and hundreds of thousands of so-called heretics, supposed witches, and also Jews and Muslims, were killed in military campaigns and in the flames of the infamous Inquisition.
You have no doubt seen St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, or at least pictures. It is one of the most imposing buildings in the world. It cost a lot to build. The Church, especially in Germany, raised money by selling indulgences to Catholics. "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory (also attested as 'into heaven') springs," was the Church's marketing slogan.
Martin Luther -- an Augustinian monk -- was appalled. Luther had other issues with the Church, as well, and began the Reformation by famously nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door on October 31, 1517.
What began as a reasonable challenge to abuses by the Church escalated into full-blown revolution. Familiar Protestant doctrines like justification by grace alone, and relying upon the Bible alone for teachings sprang into existence, as well as abandonment of most sacraments.
Closing a Sad Chapter In Christian History
What followed was a dark time for Christianity, with much cruelty on both sides. But fast-forward to 1999. The Catholic Church and most Lutheran bodies agreed on The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine Justification. Now the churches "share a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ." Patient ecumenism bore fruit: it resolved 500 years of antagonism over mutual misunderstanding surrounding what each side believed on what had been seen as a fundamental obstacle to mutual respect.
On October 31, Pope Francis will fly to Sweden to celebrate the blessings of the Reformation. A sad chapter in Christianity's history will be closed, even as Pope Francis is turning over a new ecumenical leaf that promises even more understanding and cooperation.
Vatican II and Ecumenism
Vatican II in the 60s altered the Church's perception of itself in relation to other Christians, and other faiths. The document Lumen Gentium recognized for the first time a "Church of Christ" that existed beyond the "visible confines" of the Catholic Church, where "many elements of sanctification and truth" may be found. The Church was not made less important; if anything it was made more important. It was as if someone living in a grand mansion one day found a large wing they had never suspected existed! And in this wing they found lost lost sisters and brothers living!
In Paragraph 15 of Lumen Gentium, we find this prophetic language: "Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood."
I'm Okay, You're Okay
Pope Francis has often spoken of the "ecumenism of martyrs." It is difficult to see how a Christian non-Catholic who sheds his blood for Our Lord should be cast into Hell for his courageous belief just because he's not "our sort." But you can argue that one with Jesus if you get the chance.
Ecumenism (and interfaith) are a mainstay of the modern Catholic Church. Pope Francis has reached out to evangelicals, both in person, and by video. Pope Francis does not look at people and see a denomination, or a faith. He sees a person, in the image of God.
In conclusion, there is a book from the 70s that was very popular. It is called "I'm Okay, You're Okay." It speaks about the roles we play as Adult, Parent and Child. For perhaps the first time in history, we are blessed with a pope who says, "I'm okay, you're okay." and treats people as one adult to another. Contrast that with the triumphalism of the past: "I'm okay, you're not okay," and "I'm the parent, you're the child." Thankfully, those days are over, at least for a shining season.
Reporting from the Meadow, the Bunny Rabbit