International news

 — Sept. 30, 200330 sept. 2003

Christians of various denominations are helping to build a monastery
for the Catholic Olivetan Benedictines in Northern Ireland. The joint effort is a tribute
to the monks who have made it their mission to work for reconciliation between the
Protestant and Catholic communities. They started in a modest way when they first arrived
in the village of Rostrevor five years ago by inviting members of the local clergy to pray
with them. A number of villagers have told the monks that they had never entered churches
of other denominations before they arrived. Now there are regular ecumenical events and
the village’s clergy and Christian leaders meet fortnightly with the monks for Lectio
Divina -the prayerful reading of Scripture. The Monastery of the Holy Cross is being built
just outside the village on land donated by a local farmer. On the Feast of St. Benedict,
the monks launched a web site and “Buy a Brick” campaign for the new monastery
(the address is

The “Sources Association” was founded in 2000 to promote
friendship and solidarity between Catholic and Orthodox academic institutions.
“Purification of Memory and of Ethnic and Denominational Passions” was the theme
of the annual working session held in February 2003 in Toscany. The meeting enabled
priests and lay people in the field of formation to share their ecumenical experiences and
to discuss the publication of a manual of theological studies on peace and reconciliation
with concrete examples of what has already been done in this area and pedagogical pages on
the ecclesial, social and historical contexts of the various countries.

The icon of Our Lady of Kazan, kept in the private apartments of the
Pope in the Vatican, will soon be returned to Russia. It is one of Russia’s most venerated
icons of the Mother of God. A 10 year-old girl discovered the icon in 1579 in the town of
Kazan in the ruins of a burned house to which, tradition says, she had been guided by a
dream. The icon traveled with the Russian forces at the liberation of Moscow from the
Polish invaders at the end of the “Time of Troubles” in 1612. It was kept in the
Monastery of the Annunciation in Kazan from which it was believed to have been stolen in

Romanian Christian Churches are working together to draw up list of
communist-era martyrs. “It’s promising that we now can do this in an ecumenical
way,” said Archbishop Ioan Robu of Bucharest. The agreement among Romania’s Catholic,
Orthodox and Protestant churches calls for a list of national martyrs, which will include
150 martyrs from the Romanian Catholic Church, an Eastern rite; fifty Latin rite
Catholics; 120 Orthodox Christians; and twenty Protestants.

A chair in ecumenical theology, established at the St. Thomas Aquinas
Pontifical University in Rome will be filled by professors from other Christian
denominations. It is named in honour of Jean-Marie Roger Tillard, the Canadian Dominican
priest who won renown for his ecumenical writings and for his work with the Anglican-Roman
Catholic International Commission. He died in November 2000. The chair will help to
provide the college’s 1,400 students from 98 countries with first-hand involvement with
scholars from different Churches.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States has
proposed a number of interim steps that Catholic and Anglican authorities could take to
strengthen bonds on the way to full communion: participation by Anglican bishops in synods
of Catholic bishops in Rome, changing the status of Catholic bishops at the Lambeth
Conference of the Anglican Communion from “ecumenical participants” to
“Roman Catholic bishop-delegates,” and having similar bishop- delegates from the
other Church at the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the House of
Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the USA. The Americans also endorsed the proposal of
the international Anglican Roman-Catholic Commission that Anglican bishops should join
Catholic bishops in their five-yearly ad limina visits to the Holy See.

Papal primacy, its biblical foundations and its exercise in the church today
were the subjects of four days of discussion and study by Catholic and Orthodox scholars
meeting at the Vatican May 21-24. The theologians looked at the key stages in the
development of the exercise of papal primacy from the writings of the early church
theologians to the definitions promulgated by church councils. The fact that the meeting
was designed for an exchange of viewpoints and scholarship and not to draw conclusions or
recommendations made the discussion flow freely and permitted an examination of the real
problems as they are seen both in the Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Church. At the
end of the meeting, the participants decided they would publish all of the papers prepared
for the discussion in the hope that it would stimulate further reflection. The Vatican and
an Orthodox publishing house are compiling the texts, but the date of their release has
not been announced.

The largest ever gathering of German Catholics and Protestants took
place at an ecumenical service in Berlin, June 1, in the presence of tens of thousands of
worshipers. “The ecumenical Kirchentag (church gathering) marked a big step forward
on the path of Christian ecumenism,” said Hans Joachim Meyer, a co-president of the
event. According to the organisers, some 200,000 people from Germany and elsewhere came
together in the German capital for five days of meetings and exchanges. In a message from
Rome, John Paul II called the event an “ecumenical sign” demonstrating that what
unites Christians is stronger and more significant than what separates them. On May 30,
sixteen German churches – Protestant, Catholics and Orthodox – signed the Ecumenical
Charter: a collection of guidelines fostering greater cooperation among European churches
towards “visible unity.”

A group of Muslim and Christian men and women gathered in Chicago,
March 20, to imagine how the world might be different if leaders in churches, mosques and
society were more open to women. Speakers at the two-day conference on Women, Religion and
Leadership in Christianity and Islam at Catholic Theological Union focused on the
leadership positions in their respective faith traditions that are currently closed to
women. Participants in the third annual Catholic-Muslim Studies Conference also discussed
positive examples of past and current visionary women leaders and the need to create new
ways of leading that better reflect women’s contributions.

A U.S. national Muslim group has published a booklet aiming to educate the law
enforcement community
about Islam. “A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide
to the Muslim Community
” was released May 1 by the Council on American-Islamic
Relations in Washington, D.C. The guide contains basic information about Muslim beliefs
and practices and addresses issues like sensitivity in body searches and entering Muslim
homes, given the modesty requirements of the faith. Leaders of the American-Islamic
council say the booklet is meant to foster more open lines of communication, prevent
disrespect and profiling and facilitate cooperation on security issues in an atmosphere of
mutual respect.

An invitation to Buddhists to join Christians in prayer for peace was
issued by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the new president of the Pontifical Council for
Interreligious Dialogue
in a warm message marking the Festival of Vesakh, which Buddhists
celebrated May 14. Vesakh, Buddhism’s most important festival, marks the major events in
the life of Buddha. In a world where we witness every day fresh scenes of bloodshed,
violence, confrontation and crisis.., we cannot lead our lives without committing
ourselves to advancing the cause of peace. “I am convinced that by persevering in
prayer we will contribute to advancing peace in the world both now and in the
future,” writes Archbishop Fitzgerald.

A meeting of the Steering Committee of the Special Commission on Orthodox
Participation in the World Council of Churches
in Thessaloniki, Greece June 4-7
focused on follow-up of the main issues of the Commission’s 2002 report: common prayer,
ecclesiology, the methodology of consensus, and membership conditions. Committee members
reaffirmed the report’s emphasis on common prayer as a way of enabling WCC member churches
to stay and to pray together within the fellowship of the Council. They anticipate that
forthcoming WCC gatherings will reveal whether the proposed framework can foster common
prayer with sensitivity to different faith traditions, and sustain the full participation
of all. The move to a consensus method of taking decisions was another of the main issues
addressed by the meeting. A manual with guidelines for session moderators and a new set of
rules of debate embodying the consensus method is being developed. The Committee scheduled
the first full implementation and testing of the method during the 2005 Central Committee
meeting. In the light of what happens there, a framework for a consensus methodology will
be prepared for use at the WCC’s ninth assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February 2006.

Participants in the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims,
meeting April 8-9 in Brooklyn discussed religion and violence, marriage and family life,
the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and American Christians’ treatment of
Muslims. Naeem Baig, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, said
Muslims continue to be troubled by comments by evangelists who call Islam an “evil
and wicked” religion that embraces violence. Roman Catholic officials told Muslim
leaders that they do not share fundamentalist Christians’ harsh views on Islam. “We
certainly don’t interpret the Book of Revelation by looking for who is the Antichrist in
the contemporary world and how the battle of Armageddon might play out in the present
time,” said John Borelli, the director for inter-religious relations for the U. S.
Conference of Catholic Bishop.

The opening of the Albert Decourtray Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem
will help to fill the gap left by the closing of the Ratisbonne Christian Centre of Jewish
Studies. The Albert Decourtray Institute does not depend on church funding, accepts second
and third-year University students and promotes practical instruction on the literary
roots of Judaism, the history of Jewish-Christian relations and the methodological and
theological issues which arise in disagreements between the two communities. The Albert
Decourtray Association [],
formed in December 2002 to back this project, is an Israeli law association. Among its
founding members are: André Chouraqui, Emile Shoufani, Jacquot Grunewald, Daphna
Poznanski, Michel Renaud-Albert Decourtray Institute, POB 61229 Jerusalem 91060 Israel.

The 2003 Templeton Prize has been awarded to Rev. Holmes Rolston III,
professor of philosophy at Colorado State University for 30 years of research, writing and
lecturing on the religious imperative to respect nature. The prestigious prize, awarded
for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, was established
thirty years ago by Presbyterian layman Sir John Templeton and is valued at more than $1
million US. Prof. Rolston, a Presbyterian minister, helped establish the field of
environmental ethics and is one of the world’s leading advocates for protecting the
Earth’s ecology in recognition of the intrinsic value of creation including the ongoing
evolutionary genesis of the natural world. He has been at the forefront of those who join
biology and religion for the understanding of the Earth’s evolutionary ecosystem.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of the death of Abbé Paul Couturier,
“Couturier links 2003” (London) held a conference in the English Convent in
Bruges, June 27-29 2003, on “Spiritual Ecumenism: the vision of Paul Couturier on
Christian Unity.” The numerous speakers represented the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican
and Methodist churches. “Couturier links 2003,” tel.: 020 8208 1519, e-mail: ,

Representatives of the Vatican and the World Council of Churches met
in southern Italy May 5-11 to examine three draft texts to be presented to the Pontifical
Council for Promoting Christian Unity
and to the WCC general assembly, which will meet in
2006. The texts focus on: the connection between being baptized and being baptized into a
church community; the nature and purpose of ecumenical dialogue; and Roman Catholic
participation in national and regional councils of churches, a practice which is growing.

Aiming to offer a symbol of unity and peace in a time of war, three
Christian bishops from San Francisco moved across Europe in early April on an unusual
ecumenical pilgrimage. Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony, Episcopal Bishop William Swing
and Roman Catholic Archbishop William Levada visited the centers of their respective
branches of Christianity – Canterbury, Rome, and Istanbul – -jointly meeting with the
leaders of each Christian body and praying together at holy sites. They described the
purpose of their pilgrimage as promoting Christian unity, as well as offering a witness to
peaceful coexistence against the backdrop of the Iraq conflict. Metropolitan Anthony said
the trip would help form an ecumenical consciousness. “For me, the greatest
significance of this undertaking is that when I look at these two men, I see brothers, and
not just on a basic human level, but brother bishops,” he said.

The quest for peace in the world calls for efforts to advance
Catholic-Muslim dialogue at all levels, speakers told an overflow crowd in the meeting
hall of Annunciation Parish in Washington, April 24. Archbishop Fitzgerald, president of
the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said one of the first reasons for
Christian-Muslim dialogue is simply sociological: Adherents to those faiths form half the
world’s population. But there are “deeper reasons for developing good relations
between Christians and Muslims,” he said. For Christians the inherent dignity of each
person, created in God’s image, is intensified by Christ’s redemptive act. Iman Abdulaziz
Sachedina, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia said,
“Dialogue cannot occur without recognizing the dignity and equality of the
other.” But both Christianity and Islam need to overcome a long history of
triumphalism, of adherents believing only they can be saved and all others are condemned
he said. Sachedina said along with dialogue there is need for “dialogue
practice,” or collaboration between Muslims and Catholics based on “the common
ethic that we all share” of helping those in need and working for justice.

A Catholic Church in the heart of Rome will be shared with the city’s Bulgarian
Orthodox community
. The Catholic Mass will continue to be celebrated in the
Church of Sts. Vincenzo and Anastasio at the Trevi Fountain, but Orthodox liturgies will
be celebrated there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “This is a significant example
of ecclesial sharing which is dear to my heart,” the Pope told a Bulgarian Orthodox
delegation May 26. “An experience of fraternal sharing marked by mutual respect for
our legitimate differences can be an encouragement to get to know each other better and to
collaborate in other contexts and circumstances,” he said. Metropolitan Simeon,
Bulgarian Orthodox archbishop of Central and Western Europe, prayed that by sharing use of
the church building, Catholics and Orthodox would be witnesses of “the universality
of the faith” and the call for all people of good will to work together for peace.

Deir Mar Musa, the Community of St. Moses the Ethiopean, aims to
further a rapprochement with Islam by “reinventing the positive relationship that
existed between the first Muslims and the Christian monks on the borders of the Arabian
deserts,” says its founder, Jesuit Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio. Perched high on a cliff in
the Syrian Desert, the Community of Deir Mar Musa has an international cast of monks and
nuns in their 30s, plus some lay people, including married couples. After four years,
those who are approved take perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as
promises of contemplation, work, hospitality and loving Islam. They lead a life of prayer,
work and study and are constructing a virtual monastery on the Internet at The practice of
Abrahamic hospitality is the whole point of their existence. They want to bridge the
tremendous gap between the followers of Jesus and the followers of Muhammad by meeting all
who come, answering their questions, inviting them to join in their prayers, building on
their mountain a people’s park with and for them, and joining in their fasts for peace.

Members of the Reformed Churches of Zurich apologized publicly for
their persecution, during the Reformation, of the Anabaptists – today’s Mennonites and
North American Amish. At a May 3rd service in the Zurich cathedral, members of the Swiss
reformed churches, Mennonites and American Amish spoke words of pardon and reconciliation.
The Amish and Mennonites trace their roots to the Swiss Brethren, a 16th century radical
Christian movement in the Zurich area. They were called Anabaptists or rebaptizers because
they refused the baptism of children and advocated the baptism of believing adults.
Persecuted as heretics by Protestants and Catholics, many sought refuge in America. The
apologies offered in Zurich in May were part of a 4-day conference organized by a retired
Swiss Reformed pastor who visited Amish and Mennonite Communities on a recent visit to the
U.S. During the conference, Reformed pastors washed the feat of the Amish and Mennonites
representatives – a gesture of humility which plays an important role in Anabaptist

The first formal dialogue between Buddhists and Catholics in the U.S.
was launched in a series of talks, March 20-23, at a California retreat centre. The
fourteen Buddhists and fourteen Catholics spoke about what it means to follow the ways of
Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) and the way of Jesus Christ, discussed their
understanding of transformation, grace, the incarnation and the passion of Jesus,
discernment of spirits, prayer, Buddha-nature and related terms. Each day was opened with
forty-five minutes of optional meditation in the Buddhists’ meditation hall. The Buddhist
hosts transformed their Confucius Hall into a space for Christian worship, with a newly
constructed wooden cross on the wall. The two sides plan to meet again in 2004 and
continue regular talks through 2006.

The International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission
(IARCCUM), launched in 2001, is drafting a common declaration which will formally express
the degree of agreement in faith that exists between Anglicans and Catholics, consolidate
the results of more than thirty years of dialogue and commit the dialogue partners to a
deeper sharing in common life and witness. Sub-groups of the Commission are looking into
the on-going process of ecumenical reception and practical strategies to help the two
communions, especially in local contexts, to do together even now whatever is possible in
the present stage of real but imperfect communion.

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