Which response to the crisis?

Bishops from 17 countries in dialogue on Christian witness in unity

“The will of God in Christian life” is the theme of the 29th Ecumenical Meeting of Bishops organized in Rome Sept. 9-13 by the Focolare Movement at the Mariapoli Centre in Castel Gandolfo (Rome). Over 30 bishops from 17 world countries attend the meeting – from Australia to Hong Kong, from India to Brazil – representing the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, as well as the Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Episcopalian and Catholic Churches. On Sunday 12, after the Angelus, participants will be received in audience by Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo. During the audience, the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity Cardinal Walter Kasper will draw a balance of the situation of ecumenism. Christian witness. “Sermons have no value today. Before the media’s speech inflation, Christian witness is what counts. Witness is the most promising potential of evangelization”. Thus declared Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop Emeritus in Prague, presenting the Bishops’ Ecumenical Meeting to the press. This year’s meeting will focus on the theme: “The will of God in Christian life”. “This question”, His Eminence said, “is not only a religious one. In our secularized world which experiments the absence of God man tends to rely only on his own will, thus finding it hard to accept and confront someone else’s”. According to cardinal Vlk, “the response to the crises affecting contemporary Europe is the witness that God is present in the history of all men and women”. However, he adds, “this witness demands Church unity: only through unity will our witness be effective”. The state of ecumenism. As relates to the state of ecumenism today and the crises in the dialogue, His Eminence points out: “the things that unite us are far more than those which divides us to the extent that in a certain sense we could live as a united Church starting today”. The meetings of the bishops from different Churches held in the past 29 years – His Eminence concluded – show that “unity is possible”. His words are echoed by bishop Christian Krause, bishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran German church, who acknowledges that “a crisis has involved institutions at all levels”, and disagrees with the idea of an “ecumenical winter”. Numerous initiatives testify to the contrary, he says, notably “the commitment of the laity”. Krause spoke of the experience at the Kirchentag in Munich and the well-consolidated “Together for Europe” joint dialogue and action initiative with the participation of 160 European Christian movements. In taking the floor, Anglican bishop Robin Smith, from the diocese of St. Albans, England, said he has attended the meetings of the Focolare Movement for the past 20 years. “During these meetings, rather than discussing what divides us, participants share a concrete experience of unity”. The pact of unity. A “pact of unity” concludes the bishops’ meeting. An account is given by Msgr. Armando Bortolaso, former apostolic bishop of Aleppo (Lebanon). “We declare our willingness to give our lives for one another, to love the other persons’ diocese like our own. The declaration is then signed and a peaceful embrace is exchanged”. It’s always a powerful and moving experience, says the Catholic bishop, “This ecumenical experience warms heart and soul. These are encounters between brethren, more than friends, since each is willing to give his life for his fellow-brother”. The challenge of migration and inter-religious dialogue. The press conference also addressed the question of migration in Europe. Cardinal Vlk guarded against the risk that Islam might face a “spiritual void” in the de-Christianized a secularised Europe: “a European culture without values of reference and without God”. This – His Eminence said – “is the contemporary challenge of European Christians”. David Murray, Anglican bishop of Perth (Australia), said that migration in Australia “is part of our culture” and added that “countering mutual fear” is an ongoing challenge. The Indian Orthodox Metropolitan from the Church of Antioch Theophilose Kuriakose shared a powerful experience. As Indian Christian citizen, he belongs to the 2 per cent minority group in the Country, where “religions risk being politicized”, namely, “manipulated for political motivations while religious leaders are increasingly inclusivistic and fundamentalist, unable to accept diversity and plurality as the will of God”. India is “a rigid society”, concluded the Metropolitan bishop, which is also experiencing the “challenge of integration”.

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