International news

 — Mar. 31, 200331 mars 2003

At a Vatican meeting at the end of October the International
Theological Commission approved a 70-page document containing the results of its study of
the nature of the diaconate, requested eight years ago by Cardinal Ratzinger. This study
does not close the door on the accession of women to the diaconate. Voices within the
Orthodox Churches have been raised for several years in favour of reinstating women to the
diaconate. This could indicate a future area of ecumenical cooperation.

Among the four names chiseled onto the Wall of the Reformers in Geneva
is Marie Dentiere, a Flemish-born 16th century Reformation lay theologian and the first
woman to take a place at the monument beside Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other luminaries
of the movement that gave birth to Protestantism. The new additions were officially
unveiled at a ceremony on Nov. 3, Reformation Sunday, a day observed in churches
throughout the Protestant world. Dentiere (c. 1490-1561) has been included with the
better-known Early Church Reformers: Peter Valdes (c. 1140-1217), who inspired the
Waldensian movement; John Wycliffe (c. 1330-1384), who instituted the first English
translation of the Bible; and John Huss (c. 1369-1415), the preacher whose teaching
ignited the Hussite movement in Bohemia.

At a November 2-4, 2002 conference organized by the national Council
of Churches of India, religious groups and non-governmental organizations initiated the
Forum for Childrens’ Rights which will oversee a campaign against child labour. A 2000
government survey put the figure of Indian child labourers (under age 14) at 10,230,000.
The Campaign Against Child Labour puts the figure at 111,000,000. Parents living in
poverty find themselves “forced to send their children to work to bring extra income
into the household,” instead of letting them attend school, according to the Forum’s
Reggie Gomes. Some factories employ large numbers of children because of their “agile
fingers,” although Reggie Gomes notes that they like to hire children because they
can pay them very low salaries.

The European Ecumenical Charter, adopted a year ago by the European
Council of Churches and the European Bishops’ Conference, was signed Oct.1, 2002 by the
representatives of the churches of Hungary. The churches of the Netherlands were the first
to sign the Charter. The text of the Charter in Hungarian was distributed at the October
meeting. During a symposium on the Charter, held in Budapest before the signing ceremony,
Reform, Lutheran and Catholic experts commented on this ecumenical document. In the
liturgical ceremony of the signing, representatives of Hungary’s eight churches expressed
their determination to continue along the ecumenical path willed by Christ for the good of
a united Europe.

Jewish leaders have welcomed the German government’s plan to give the
country’s Jewish community a legal status equal to that of the main Protestant and Roman
Catholic Churches. Under the plan, the government will make a formal agreement with the
Jewish central council to increase funding of Jewish schools, legalize Jewish religious
education in schools and finance other Jewish institutions such as kindergartens and

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has opened a new interactive version of its “Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010): Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace” website. Its address is []. The new website, available in English, French, German and Spanish, is designed to create and strengthen networking by churches, organizations and individuals committed to the search for peace, justice and reconciliation. The website contains WCC resources such as a new study guide on the four main Decade themes, ideas on how to participate in the Decade in local communities, a listing of regional and national coordinators together with e-mail discussion groups and visual resources.

The year 2003 will be the year of the Bible in Switzerland, Austria,
France and the Benelux countries. A year of the Bible, according to Daniel Galataud of the
Swiss Bible Society “recalls the important role of these holy writings in our history
and culture and helps a wider public to discover and read them.” The Bible Year’s
four objectives are: to disseminate the Bible, to demonstrate its relevance, to increase
the number of readers and to encourage group Bible studies. In France the first six months
of the year will be devoted to Christians and the Bible; the next six months will be aimed
at making the Bible known by those outside the churches.

The Member Churches of the European Council of Churches (KEK) and of
the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), signatories of the Ecumenical Charter
in 2001, met in September 2002 at Ottmaring, Germany to discuss how the Charter is being
received. Their final statement noted that “In many regions we are still in the first
stages of the reception process which mirrors the diversity of our experiences and of the
life of the churches and the function the charter serves varies according to the different
contexts in which it is used.”

The Opening liturgy of the Lutheran World Federation Tenth Assembly,
“For the Healing of the World” (Winnipeg, 21-31 July 2003), will be held in St.
Boniface Roman Catholic Cathedral. This sacred space destroyed by fire in 1968 and
rebuilt, hosted the opening worship of the 1985 convention that brought forth the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). In a country with few large Lutheran
Churches, the ELCIC has often worshipped at national gatherings in Roman Catholic or
Anglican Churches. Close ecumenical relationships make this a natural and much appreciated
practice. The French and Métis (mixed French and Native descent) communities continue
strong language and cultural traditions in Winnipeg. Inside the Cathedral, a Métis image
of Christ, with wounded hands extended, welcomes worshippers at the table of grace. Here
in the midst of death and new life, people from around the world will gather for the
opening worship of the LWF Tenth Assembly. For information: Tel.: + 41/22-791 63 71 or 63
72; Fax: + 41/22791 66 30, [], [].

The first meeting of the European Council of Religions was held
November 11-12 in Oslo, Norway. The Council, created in March 2002, is composed of
Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim representatives. Participants at the
Oslo meeting looked at various aspects of developing dialogue among religions, cultures
and peoples as a response to fanaticism and terrorism locally as well as internationally.

Representatives of the Near Eastern Orthodox Churches and of the
Oriental Catholic patriarchs met in an expanded session of the patriarchs’ Council October
29, 2002 in Rabouweh, Lebanon. It was clear to the delegates of the Orthodox and Catholic
Churches that radical changes were needed in the Middle East Council of Churches, created
25 years ago in a very different ecclesial climate. Better interchurch relations today,
marked by cooperation in a spirit of “fraternity and love” imply a new vision of
what working together means. A proposal was made to the meeting by Fr. Paul Wehbeh, an
Orthodox priest from the Beirut Diocese, to produce a common catechism to be used by both
Catholics and Orthodox in Lebanon.

The participants at the 19th meeting of the Joint Committee of North
American Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bishops, held October 2-4, 2002 in Chicago, studied a
document adopted in 1999 by the international Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue on primacy
in the church. After showing how primacy was interpreted differently in the eastern and
western churches, Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburg supported a return to the decision of
the Council of Constantinople (879-880) which recognized the primacy of the Sees of Rome
and of Constantinople in their own geographical sectors. Fr. Alexander Golitzin of the
Orthodox Church in America presented the working papers of the North American
Orthodox-Catholic Consultation on baptism and on the Filioque. Orthodox Bishop Seraphin of
Ottawa and Catholic Bishop Melczek of Gary, Indiana described the pastoral training
programs in their respective churches. The meeting also examined recent documents of the
U.S. Catholic bishops on sex abuse of minors and reviewed the current state of
international Orthodox-Catholic relations. The Joint Committee of North American Orthodox
and Roman Catholic Bishops was created in 1981 and is made up of sixteen members, eight
Orthodox and eight Catholic.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation held its
63rd meeting at St. Paul University in Ottawa from October 31 to November 2, 2002. The
members continued their study of the historical context and the theological and
ecclesiological implications of the West’s adoption of the Filioque clause in the Nicene
Creed. The first draft of an agreed statement on this subject was examined and reports on
the internal situations of both churches as well as the state of international relations
between them were updated. On October 31, a talk by Fr. Thomas Fitzgerald, co-secretary of
the Consultation, on “Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue: Perspectives on the Eucharist”
was given at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa. The North
American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, begun in 1965, is carried out under
the auspices of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the U.S. and Canada and of the
Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. The Consultation has thirty
members-bishops, priests and lay theologians, with equal Catholic and Orthodox

A campaign for fair trade practices has been launched by Common
Action, an ecumenical coalition of over eighty-five churches and development organizations
representing thousands of Christians. The three-year campaign wants to ensure that human
rights and environmental protection figure among the essential criteria in economic and
commercial agreements. A petition demanding that the rules of international commerce take
human beings as well as market forces into account is one of the key elements of this

The German-Muslim League CC organized an interfaith conference on
November 1-3, 2002, at Arnoldshain, in co-operation with the Evangelical Academy,
Arnoldshain and the Thomas Morus Academy, Frankfurt. Eighty men and women of Jewish,
Christian and Muslim faiths attended the conference that addressed the topic of “The
Stranger in Judaism, Christianity, Islam.” There were lectures from the perspectives
of the three religions by scholars and community leaders, presentation of Yiddish songs
and a cabaret show. The conference was planned to include Muslim Friday Prayer, Jewish
Sabbath celebrations, a Muslim-Sufi Dhikr, and a Christian Sunday service. Another
conference is planned for 2003 and organizers hope that it will become a yearly event. The
German Muslim-League CC organizers many regular Christian-Muslim happenings. Please
consult our website [].

An interreligious committee comprising Christians, Muslims and Jews in
Belgium has been established in “Our Lady of the Nations” Fraternity of the
Friars Minor. The committee’s charter includes the promotion of values of mutual respect,
human dignity, compassion, solidarity and universal fraternity among all people. It
rejects violence and war as a means to solve conflicts and is committed to work for
rapprochement, peace and harmony among the various religious communities in Belgium. At a
meeting in December eight representatives from the three religions were appointed to
constitute the first operational nucleus. The founding group is composed of five Muslims
of the Moroccan and Turkish communities, two Franciscans (Sister Hile Vantomme and Friar
Vincenzo Brocanelli), and a Jew, who is honorary president of the Consistory of Brussels.
The group’s coordination was entrusted to Friar Brocanelli, assisted by secretary
Ait-Baala Latifa.

A joint statement by the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Anglican
Communion on the divinity of Christ “overcomes 1700 years of division over the
Christology of the church,” said Rev. Harold Nahabedian of St. Mary Magdalenes’s
Toronto. “It brings these two communions together. Basically, it says that what each
has taught over the centuries has been the faith, even though we have used different
language.” The joint November statement has been submitted to authorities from both
church families for consideration. Another meeting is planned in Ireland for 2003 where
the two groups will talk about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other topics the commission will
discuss in future will include the procession of the Holy Spirit, authority in the Holy
Spirit, authority in the Church, ecclesiology, the mission of the church, sacraments,
human sexuality, mission and pastoral care. There are six Oriental Orthodox Churches:
Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, Ethiopian, Eritrean and (Indian) Malankara. They are in
communion with each other and are also called ancient Oriental, lesser Eastern, and pre-
or ante-Chalcedonian Churches.

The InterOrthodox Dialogue association organized a meeting between
Orthodox and pre-Chalcedonians on Nov. 16, 2002 at the Orthodox Theological Institute in
Paris. InterOrthodox Dialogue promotes practical dialogue and understanding between the
Orthodox and the Oriental pre-Chalcedonian Churches in France: Coptic, Syrian, Armenian,
Ethiopian. After the Council of Chalcedon (451) the Oriental Orthodox Churches separated
from the Orthodox for historical reasons and the limitations of human terminology for
expressing the mystery of Christ. Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy, dean of the St. Serge Institute,
emphasized that “at the theological level, we are very close … theologians confirm
that our two families of churches truly believe that Christ is one, true God and true man,
undivided and unadulterated.”

The Cat (Christian action and networking against trafficking in women) project combines the activities of different services in various countries as well as the Conference of European Churches and Caritas Europa. Exchange of experience and knowledge in the campaign against trafficking will be at the heart of the Cat project. The
participating organizations will cooperate with each other and with local police, schools
and youth centres. Internal communication will be strengthened and project results shared
with a broader public through the internet. The “Coatnet” (Catholic Organizations against Trafficking in Women), which is already in place as a Caritas initiative, will become an ecumenical portal for the fight against trafficking. An estimated 100,000 women and girls from eastern and southern Europe and other countries are forced into labour, into marriages and into prostitution. The ecumenical Cat project will begin in a year.

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Centre for Interreligious
Understanding in Englewood, N.J., spoke December 13, 2002 at the “Centro Pro
Unione” in Rome to an audience of theology students and proponents of
Christian-Jewish dialogue. He said that the Vatican biblical commission’s 2001 document,
“The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible,”
reaffirmed Catholic teaching that God’s covenant with the Jewish people endures and that
the Jewish “expectation for a Messiah is not in vain.” By focusing on the Jews’
continuing expectation of the Messiah, it said, Christians are stimulated to keep their
own hopes alive. “The concept of the Messiah in Jewish thought has not the same
centrality as it does in Christianity,” Bemporad said. In many Jewish circles, he
said, the expectation is not so much for one man to usher in the kingdom of God, but for a
new humanity that would give birth to the reign of justice and peace. Bemporad told his
audience that reading the Old Testament as Jews read it is not simply an exercise for
promoting respect and dialogue. “By knowing the environment of Jesus and his
language, you know more about who he is and what he taught,” the rabbi said. As the
Vatican document says, “Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be an
incomprehensible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up and

Two inmates at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville realized
one day that, despite incarceration, their lives could still have purpose and meaning.
They asked Sr. Christine Beckett, a volunteer chaplain at the prison, to sponsor their
efforts. The Children’s Fund Project, run totally by inmates, was born in July 2002 with
Beckett as community sponsor, spokesperson and spiritual adviser. Because they believe
that the root cause of crime is poverty, the purpose of the Children’s Fund Project is to
raise money to contribute to children living in poverty and youth at risk. Since its
inception, the project has made donations to several western Kentucky projects that aid
children in need in order to divert them from lives of crime. Prisoners have identified
three ways to raise money for the kids: making and selling arts and crafts, collecting
voluntary donations from individual inmates and retrieving aluminium cans from the garbage
collected in the penitentiary. The project receives thirty-eight to forty cents for each
pound of aluminium. A recent month’s work yielded about $200, which translates to 15,000
cans-worth of sorting and flattening. Inmate Thomas Lantry says “I’m motivated by
these guys.” When he asked them what they were doing, stomping cans, “they told
me it was for kids. Working with them helps me stay out of trouble, and it helps kids —
that’s the main thing.” Lantry said the positive feedback from “Sister
Chris” (as the inmates call Beckett), the pictures of the kids they’ve helped and
thank you letters help keep them motivated. The bylaws of the Children’s Fund Project
stipulate that 100 percent of the money raised “shall go directly to benefit
underprivileged children.” This means that men who fashion arts and crafts must pay
for their own materials and that no project money may be spent to haul cans to the nearby
recycling centre. But the inmates get a helping hand from prison guards, who make their
own contribution to the project by using personal time to make the needed trips to the
recycling centre. Through donations, sale of arts and crafts and “can stomping,”
the Children’s Fund Project contributed close to $4,000 this Christmas to such charities
as Sanctuary House in Hopkinsville, KY, Feed a Kid in Guthrie, KY, and to two young cancer

The forty-four member Countries of the European Council have initiated
a “Day of Memory” for the victims of the Holocaust, and also recall the people
who risked their lives to oppose the Nazi slaughter. The date and manner of observing
Holocaust Remembrance Day will be decided by each country. Beginning in 2003, it will be
observed in all educational establishments. “It is absolutely necessary to remember;
to remember helps to prevent,” said Archbishop Giuseppe Chiaretti of Perugia,
chairman of the Italian bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenism and Dialogue. “A great
lesson of civilization arises from this day: to learn to respect others […], to
relate to everyone despite physical, ethnic, cultural or religious differences,”
Archbishop Chiaretti concluded.

The twentieth meeting between Protestants and Orthodox in France took
place November 21, 2002 under the co-presidency of Arnold de Clermont, president of the
French Protestant Federation and Metropolitan Jérémie, president of the Assembly of
Orthodox Bishops of France. The meeting explored “Prayer in the two traditions.”
Some Orthodox churches are not comfortable with common worship services, especially those
organized within the framework of the World Council of Churches. Fr. Michel Evdokimov
showed how the Orthodox see prayer in the context of the liturgy celebrated in community.
Each member “shapes his personal prayer in the mold of formulas passed down by
tradition often over thousands of years.” Alongside this community prayer there
exists an interior prayer — the “Prayer of Jesus” or the prayer of the
Heart” — a continual invocation of the name of Jesus which “opens us to God’s
ineffable presence.” In contrast, “spontaneous” prayer is the rule for
Protestants, Rev. Antoine Nouis told the meeting. It is situated within what he calls
“Protestant individualism.” Individual conscience prevails over all
institutional prerogatives, he explained. The question that emerged in the discussion
following the talks was whether ecclesial prayer and individual prayer were opposed to
each other. The participants felt this to be a false opposition. As usual, there was place
at the meeting for an exchange of information about recent developments in the life of the
Protestant and Orthodox Churches.

An international Protestant-Orthodox consultation on ecclesiology was
held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete November 28-December 1, 2002. The theme was chosen from the 1994 document “The Church of Jesus Christ” and developed the
ecclesiological aspects of the 1973 Leuenberg Agreement between the Lutheran and reformed
churches. The analysis of the “The Church of Jesus Christ” revealed certain
“common positions” as well as others “in need of clarification from the
Orthodox point of view” and still others considered “controversial,” said
the news release at the close of the meeting. That “the Church rests on the Word of a
Trinitarian God,” foundation and source of her action, is a shared position
demonstrated in the document. The controversial elements centered around the questions:
Can the Church be qualified as “sinful”? Is eucharistic hospitality possible
when doctrinal differences still exist? The consultation participants were pleased with
the “constructive and friendly atmosphere” of their deliberations and expressed
their desire that the Conference of European Churches and the Leuenberg Ecclesial
Communion encourage the continuation of this new dialogue.

Posted: Mar. 31, 2003 • Permanent link:
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