International news

 — June 30, 200230 juin 2002

An interfaith appeal for the protection of energy resources and for environmental justice was made by over 1200 religious leaders in the U.S. Their statement took up again the concerns of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which set international standards for the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions which, according to scientists, bring about global warming. They maintain that it is not enough to try to replace foreign gas supplies with domestic ones, but that preservation should be the focal point of U.S. policy on environmental matters. Grounded in what the religious leaders call “moral values and the need to safeguard creation and the children of God,” the statement recommends the use of “clean” technology in the manufacture of hybrid cars which are less polluting. It also asks for an increase in funding for public transit. This statement is one of many initiatives started in recent years and engaging denominational communities beyond religious and theological lines on the question of protecting the environment. “We tell our people that saving energy is one way of keeping our covenant with God” insisted Archbishop Khahag Barsamian of the Armenian Church of America. Among the signatories of the statement were the secretary general of the U.S. Council of Churches, representatives of the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, of various Jewish organizations and many African American churches.

Jews and Catholics met in the Paris Town Hall at the end of January for the first European-wide dialogue between the two faiths. Drawing cardinals, bishops, rabbis and religious scholars from Brussels to Warsaw, the meeting sought to reconcile differences accumulated over generations of mistrust and bloodshed, and to begin forging a new spiritual identify for Europe. Hosted by the European Jewish Congress, the interfaith meeting was conceived two years ago when Pope John Paul II visited the Holy Land. Now, some religious leaders suggest it will lay a foundation for future discussions, perhaps including members of Europe’s Muslim community as well. Plans are already under way for a Jewish-Muslim conference in France, said Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Mosque. The Paris conference was the latest step in a slow and painful post-war reconciliation between the continent’s 286 million Catholics and 2.5 million Jews.

The 2002 Niwano Peace Prize was awarded to retired Mexican Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal de las Casas. The prize was established in 1983 by Japanese Buddhist leader Nikkyo Niwano to honour and encourage individuals and organizations that promote inter-religious co-operation to further the cause of peace. Bishop Ruiz, 77, was chosen by an international panel of judges for his untiring devotion to raising the social standing of the indigenous communities of Mexico and for his mediation efforts on their behalf despite government suspicion and death threats. The Niwano prize was presented to Bishop Ruiz May 9 in Tokyo.

The 2002 Templeton Prize has been awarded to John C. Polkinghorne, a physicist and mathematician who surprised his scientific colleagues some twenty years ago by becoming an Anglican priest. Polkinghorne, 71, has played a major role in bringing closer together the worlds of science and religion. His application of “scientific methods to the study of Christianity opened the door to a modern and compelling exploration of the Faith,” according to the press release announcing the recipient of the prize. John Marks Templeton, an American financier, created the Templeton Prize in 1972 because he felt the Nobel Prizes awarded each year did not consider the field of religion. At first the Templeton Prize was given to outstanding figures of the religious world, but lately it has gone to scientists working also in religion. John C. Polkinghorne was awarded the Templeton Prize by the Duke of Edinburgh at a private Ceremony in Buckingham Palace on April 29.

This year’s Hans Ehrenberg Prize will be awarded at a ceremony in November, to Manfred Kock, head of the Evangelical Church in Germany and Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Chair of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Hans Ehrenberg Association said the two men were being recognized for their work in promoting cooperation between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Germany. The association singled out the efforts of the two church leaders in promoting a major joint Protestant-Roman Catholic statement in 1997 on economic and social issues in Germany. Cardinal Lehmann said he was “astonished” to be awarded the Protestant prize alongside Kock and took it as an encouragement to continue dialogue and co-operation and to speak as one on topics where Christian opinions should be heard. Kock is well known for his commitment to ecumenism and for promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Ecumenism was the main topic studied at the General Assembly of the Protestant Federation of France (FPF), March 23-24, 2002. The FPF is made up of sixteen churches or church federations and sixty associations. “The discussions, conflicts and differences of opinion which stem from the very diversity of our churches are as much a blessing to be lived and shared as a challenge to take up,” emphasized the FPF’s final recommendation.

More Protestant Congregations in Holland are organizing services during the three days preceding Easter. Traditionally, Dutch Protestant churches do not hold services on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. This year, for the first time, the Council of Churches of the Netherlands drew up liturgical models for these three days. Although church attendance is generally decreasing, Protestants seem to be showing a growing interest in certain practices such as the Stations of the Cross and Ash Wednesday ceremonies.

The Catholic and Orthodox bishops of Poland have formed a committee to study ways of restarting the dialogue between these two churches. The main focus of the committee would be the question of Uniatism. An Orthodox archbishop and a Catholic bishop are the two co-presidents of the committee which will study the historic and theological elements which resulted in the creation of eastern rite churches in union with Rome.

A new European Interfaith council, the first such consultative body, has been started by representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions. The aim of the Council of religious leaders is to interact with political leaders in a Europe that is becoming more and more multireligious and multicultural. It will offer an “appropriate tool” for dialogue with the European Union and a platform for “authoritative statements” from various religions, explained Zoroastrian, Jehangir Sarosh of the Council’s executive committee. The new Council is part of the World Conference of Religion and Peace (WCRP). It will maintain contacts with the Conference of European Churches (KEK), the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and other religious organizations. The Council’s co-presidents are: the Lutheran Bishop of Oslo, Gunnar Staalsett; the French Chief Rabbi, Samuel René Sirat; and the Muslim leader for Bosnia Herzegovina, Mustafa Ceric. The Council is hoping to increase its membership and will hold its first meeting in November in Norway. The good work carried out by interfaith councils in situations of inter-group violence, such as in Bosnia and in Sierra Leone, has shown that high-level dialogue can have an impact on local conflicts. “Naturally, there will always be extremists who claim that theirs is the only true faith,” added Jehangir Sarosh. “But if religious leaders can encourage dialogue, the local community will also begin to see things differently,” he said.

A community of cloistered Orthodox nuns has taken up residence on the grounds of St. Martin-le-Seul in Bondaroy near Pithiviers, France. The Catholic bishop, in concert with the local curate and the mayor, was very happy to sign an agreement with Metropolitan Joseph Pop, the Romanian patriarch in charge of the nuns, allowing for the celebration of their liturgical services in the neighbouring Catholic Chapel. “Joining the monks of St. Benoît-sur-Loire and the Cloistered nuns of Bouzy-la-Forêt who live ecumenism in a special way through their prayers and their many contacts, Loiret has added another place of prayer for Christian Unity,” said the Bishop of Orleans.

“Dialogue Between Cultures and Religions” was the theme of an international symposium organized by the University of Athens and the Cultural Foundation of Kykko Monastery and held at the monastery, near Nicosia, March 8-11. It was attended by representatives of various Orthodox Churches as well as many theologians from Greek and Cypriot Universities. The final statement, adopted by all the participants, stressed that the only way not only to prevent, but also to heal the diseases of intolerance and fanaticism was through interreligious dialogue. All religious traditions must energetically condemn the use of violence in the name of religion. The statement insisted that the use of religion in nationalistic and extremist causes always ends by building up inter-group hatred.

Members of the US Lutheran-United Methodist dialogue, meeting in February in Florida, found significant agreement among the churches’ histories and doctrinal teachings on the sacraments. Both Churches accept two sacraments — Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Co-chairperson Bishop Melvin G. Talbert said the UMC and ELCA may have different understandings of the sacraments, but “we quickly came to realize these differences are basically in terms of nuance.” Talks between Lutherans and United Methodists in other parts of the world have set the stage for the US dialogue, said co-chairperson, Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg. The next meeting of the dialogue will be in September 2002 in Chicago. With 8.5 million members, the UMC is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The 5.13-million member ELCA is the fourth largest Protestant U.S. denomination.

St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral and St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles are partners in a neighbourhood revitalization effort. “This collaboration between our two churches,” said Father Jarlath Cunnane, pastor of St. Thomas Church, “has truly been a blessing for everyone.” Among the most tangible aspects of the revitalization is the renovation of St. Thomas itself, severely damaged in a 1999 fire. The community of St. Sophia continues to help raise funds for the Catholic parish. “We don’t always have to agree on everything,” said Father John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia Cathedral, “but the greatest agreement is to do good for the people, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Sixth Orientale Lumen conference was held from June 3rd to June 7th at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC on the theme: “Eastern Catholic Churches: Window Between East and West?” Presentations by scholars and theologians and liturgical celebrations of many varieties provided opportunities for Catholics and Orthodox to gather, discuss and learn about their respective traditions. The Society of Saint John Chrysostom, a sponsor of the conference, is an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people organized for the purpose of promoting an understanding of Eastern Christianity. Offering a unique opportunity for lay persons and clergy to meet, discuss topics of mutual interest, and learn from each other’s traditions, Orientale Lumen conferences provide a “grass roots” approach to ecumenical dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

The U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue is developing a joint statement on “The Church as Koinonia: Its Structures and Ministries.” The dialogue, which began in 1965, is co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The current round of discussions is studying how the roles of ordained ministries and the structures of church unity in the Catholic and Lutheran communions relate to the way they understand and practice koinonia. Koinonia, a Greek biblical word, is often translated as “communion.” In various contexts it can mean fellowship, partnership, a close mutual relationship, sharing in, contribution or gift. It has become an increasingly important focus of bilateral and multilateral ecumenical discussions over the past decade. The current talks in the U.S. build on the recommendations, content and method of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican in 1999.

A new “Working Group”, which will be known as the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), has been set up by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Communion. The new Commission will complement the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which remains the official instrument for Anglican-Catholic theological dialogue. The 2000 International Meeting of Anglican and Catholic Bishops in Mississauga, Canada recommended that a new international commission be established. The IARCCUM Commission composed mainly of bishops will begin preparing a joint declaration which would formally express the degree of agreement that exists between Anglicans and Catholics; studying ways in which the Commission could guide and promote the study and reception of the agreed statements of ARCIC; and searching for strategies to translate the degree of spiritual communion that has been achieved into visible and practical applications.

In its ongoing dialogue about the role of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has given special attention to Mary in the New Testament and in the life of the early church, as well as in Reformation authors. This has prepared the foundations for the dialogue’s forthcoming work on the dogmatic definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. The ARCIC Commission hopes in approximately two years time to be able to reach an agreed statement on Mary, which would then be submitted to Anglican and Catholic authorities for their consideration and evaluation.

International leaders from a variety of fields related to the environment and spirituality gathered at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky for five days of contemplative dialogue, June 10-14, as part of Thomas Merton Retreat 2002: Spirituality and the Environment. At Gethsemani, the participants experienced in-depth dialogue, reflection, and contemplation in a format first suggested by Thomas Merton (1915-1968) who was a monk at the Abbey. During the June 14th public forum which followed the retreat, members of the public were able to dialogue with the environmentalist. Information about the forum is available on the Merton Foundation website: []. For further information about Merton Retreat 2002 and the public forum, cal (502) 899-1952, Fax (502) 899-1907, or e-mail: [].

Violence is incompatible with the principles of Christian faith, declared over 400 delegates from evangelical churches and ecumenical organizations who attended the 40th general assembly of the Cuban Council of Churches held in the capital of the island from March 6 to 9. The participants in the assembly unanimously endorsed the efforts carried out by the World Council of Churches and other international church bodies within the framework of the Decade to Overcome the Violence. They also supported the statement issued at the meeting for peace held in Assisi, Italy, last February, which gathered representatives from all world religions under the leadership of John Paul II. The Cuban Council of Churches is one of the oldest Evangelical councils in Latin America, and has continuously worked for over 60 years in fostering cooperation among Protestant churches and ecumenical bodies in the island. Dr. Reinerio Arce, a Reformed Presbyterian layman, was re-elected at the assembly for a second consecutive term as president of the Cuban Council of Churches.

A lessening of knowledge of religion in France and the need for better school education in religion are remarked in a government-commissioned report on the subject by French writer and intellectual Regis Debray. The idea of teaching religion as a subject in school is part of a wider battle against ignorance in the world today, and against the forces of fundamentalism and fanaticism to the Debray report.

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