Feeling at home, in Berlin” “

The first ecumenical meeting of the Christian Churches in Germany to be held in late May" "

According to the data of the offices in Berlin, some 120,000 have enrolled in the ecumenical jamboree that will bring Christians from all over the country together in the German capital from 28 May to 1st June 2003. A long tradition of separate confessional meetings exists in Germany: the Katholikentag, the meeting of Catholics convened by the central committee of German Catholics (Zdk), began some 150 years ago; the Christentag, held by the German Evangelic Church (Ekd), has a history going back 50 years. Now, for the first time, the Zdk and the Ekd are joining together to organize an ecumenical meeting, the so-called “Ökumenischer Kirchentag” (Ökt). “You are a blessing” is its motto. Its programme, now available on the internet (www.oekt.de), lists the some 3200 events planned for the five day jamboree in Berlin: forums, reports, debates, biblical studies, celebrations and prayer, artistic events, exhibitions and projects of various kind. Centres of meditation for the young, families, women, men, the handicapped are being set up; the connecting thread of them all will be biblical meditations, given by bishops, theologians, laypeople, politicians and personalities of various provenance, on the theme of “blessing”. What do we want to do together? The organizational machine is huge. Some 120 work groups, comprising over 1000 representatives of the churches, were set up to prepare for the various events and have been meeting regularly over the last few months. Some 500 people have been involved just in the organization of hospitality in the host region. An appeal was made to Berliners by former President Richard von Weizsäcker on 25 March, urging them to open their homes to offer hospitality to the some 20,000 delegates who will not find accommodation in hotels, hostels, boarding houses or in the 400 schools that are being equipped for the purpose. Stefan Vesper, general secretary of the ZdK, explains: “The preparation has been going on for months. When I look back at the progress we have made so far, I realize that a process of growth has taken place. We have shared various phases together: moments of euphoria, moments of tension in which each representative defended his own tradition as sacrosanct, and the current phase in which the things we have in common, faith and reciprocal understanding, are growing. The effort has always been that of asking ourselves: what do we want to do together? What will be new in the Ökt?”. A place of witness “I hope that the participants in the Ökt will feel at home in Berlin” says Vesper. “The Ökt ought to be first and foremost a place of encounter, where each may be able to express his/her own Christian identity. But it’s also important that the Ökt be a place of common witness in our country. Christians have the task of expressing their deepest values and convictions and being co-responsible for the running of the country, for politics, for the economy, for the sciences, for culture, for social justice, peace, development, the defence of life and the safeguard of the creation. The Ökt is an occasion to make explicit this fundamental agreement among Christians”. Space for ecumenical growth. One initiative among many that may be highlighted, also in view of its European implications, is the signing of the “Charta oecumenica”: the German Churches have in fact decided to formally express their endorsement of this European ecumenical process, promoted by the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe and the Conference of the Churches of Europe. So, on the evening of 29 May, after an afternoon dedicated to the Charter, the leaders of 16 churches present in Germany will officially sign the document. “We have always insisted – says Vesper – how important it is for the Ökt to have a wide ecumenical dimension, and not just be a meeting for Catholics and Evangelics. We’ve done a lot to involve also the other Churches present in Germany. I believe it’s important for the Ökt to become a space in which relations between all the Churches may grow”.

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