International news

 — Dec. 31, 200331 déc. 2003

“East Meets West: Understanding the Muslim Presence in Europe and North America,” was the theme of the conference held September 26-28 at Indiana University, Bloomington. The 32nd annual meeting of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists featured presentations by more than fifty of the world’s leading scholars on Islam and the study of Muslim Societies. Rather than characterizing Islam as something alien, foreign and exotic, the conference emphasized that Muslims are part of the fabric of western society. In the keynote address Dr. Ali Mazrui, director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York-Binghamton, spoke on: “A Marriage of Two Civilizations? The Balance Between Western Norms and Muslim Values.” Among the topics explored at the conference were the political and philosophical perspectives of Islam on democracy and the identity and assimilation of Muslim culture in Western societies.

A “broadscale partnership” has been approved by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) with the Ecumenical Consultative Council of the Disciples of Christ. This opens the way for the establishment of stronger ties between the Disciples Organization and WARC with over two hundred member churches representing seventy-five million Christians in the world. The Disciples of Christ (sometimes called Churches of Christ) emerged from two 19th Century American religious movements and are a denomination of the reformed tradition. The forty member churches in the Disciples Ecumenical Council comprise about one million Christians. With the approval of a similar resolution by the Disciples, the WARC and the Ecumenical Council of the Disciples could undertake common projects such as the coordination of their bilateral dialogues with the Catholic Church.

According to the latest figures of the well-known religious statistician, David B. Barrett, 33.1 % of the world population is Christian (all denominations). Of these, 1.1 billion are Catholic, 356 million are Protestant, 218 million Orthodox and nearly 83 million Anglican.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has elected Samuel Kobia as its new general secretary, the first African to occupy this post. In a speech made immediately following his election, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia from the Methodist Church in Kenya reaffirmed his commitment to the ecumenical vision: “I believe very strongly that working together and walking together will help us fulfill the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ that all may be one, that the world may believe.” Kobia, who will take up the post in January, succeeds Konrad Raiser of the Evangelical Church in Germany. The World Council of Churches, founded in 1948, is a fellowship of 342 Christian churches worldwide.

The Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) (2001-2010) has designated the United States as its 2004 focus. The DOV’s US focus will aim at strengthening churches and movements working for peace in the USA, encouraging a commitment to mutual accountability, and deepening the churches’ understanding of issues such as power, militarism, and community-building. In launching the Decade, “The WCC set a broad framework,” said Rev. Dr. Fernando Enns of the Mennonite Church in Germany. “Churches and agencies have to decide themselves how to deal with issues; everyone has to decide where the violence is in their context. Then we have to bring it back into the fellowship of churches and share it here. Having this decade gives visibility to work which has been going on in churches for years.” The DVO focus in 2005 will be Asia, and in 2006 Latin America. Information on the Decade to Overcome Violence is available on

The place of disabled people in the life of church and community is explored in a profoundly insightful document entitled “A Church of All and for All,” prepared by the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network (EDAN) and the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission. Urging the inclusion of people with disabilities just as they are, the report says, “Without the full incorporation of persons who can contribute from the experience of disability, the Church falls short of the glory of God, and cannot claim to be in the image of God.” More information is available on the website

The next world conference on mission and evangelism will be held in Athens, Greece 12-19 May, 2005 on the theme “Come Holy Spirit Heal and Reconcile: Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities.” Approximately five hundred participants are expected. The last such conference took place in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil in 1996. The 2005 conference venue and dates were adopted with the stated aim “to empower participants to continue in their call to be in mission together and to work towards reconciliation and healing in Christ, in God’s world today.” Visibility is to be given to various concerns, including: women and missiology; the role of the Holy Spirit in mission, links with the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence; and biblical studies on reconciliation and Healing.

Members of the Reformed/Roman Catholic International Dialogue met in Toronto August 16 to 22 for discussions on the text: The Church as Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God. The international ecumenical commission has been studying this question since its 2001 meeting in South Africa. Though the Toronto talks were constructive Peter Wyatt from the Reformed side of the dialogue said “that the more than 200 churches which trace their roots to the 16th century Reformation are frustrated by the Catholics’ inability to build on or move beyond the 40-year-old Vatican II statements about the nature of the church.” The Catholic co-chair of the dialogue Bishop Anthony Farquhar from Belfast, said that if ecumenism is slowing down, it may have more to do with the professionalization of dialogue. The challenge to academic theologians on international commissions is to put their message in language that ordinary people will understand and care about. The Reformed/Roman Catholic International Dialogue is important to ecumenical relations among all churches because the two sides represent such a large part of the Western tradition in Christianity, said Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches. If the Reformed and Catholic Churches can agree on what the church is, it will light the path for other ecumenical dialogues, she said.

Progress in the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox was advanced at the Inter-Christian Symposium held in Ioannina, Greece in early September. The Franciscan Institute of Spirituality of the Antonianum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome and the Theology Faculty of the Aristotle University of Thessalonica of the Greek Orthodox Church began a series of such symposiums in 1992. The theme of the 2003 meeting was “The Relation Between Spirituality and Christian Dogma in the East and West.”

Churches must make interfaith cooperation a priority according to the president of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church. “Dialogue, good relations and cooperation with other religions must occupy an important place in the ecumenical witness of the Council,” he said. Founded in 1948 to promote Unity and cooperation among churches, the WCC has a long history of involvement in interreligious dialogue. Catholicos Aram I noted that many churches, non-governmental organizations, centers of other religions and even some governments are waiting for the WCC to take the initiative in the promotion of interreligious dialogue so that these kinds of dialogues do not remain just “isolated efforts.”

A Canadian, Sylvia Van Haverbeke of Newcastle, Ontario was elected to a four-year term as head of the International World Day of Prayer at its meeting in England in August. Van Haverbeke, who has a Master of Divinity degree and is an associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough, was proposed by women representatives from Egypt and Denmark. World Day of Prayer, written each year by women from different countries, is marked in 171 countries around the world each March. It is celebrated in 2000 communities across Canada. Van Haverbeke is the first Catholic and second Canadian to hold the post.

The Mennonite Catholic International Dialogue has produced its first document after five years of study. The Mennonite World Council accepted the paper in July and is awaiting final acceptance by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity before publication and distribution of the document to 1.2 million Mennonites in 48 countries. Once the new document, “Called Together to be Peacemakers” is published, the members of the dialogue will likely begin talking about the shape of future talks, said Helmut Harder, a Mennonite member of the dialogue. Catholics and Mennonites have plenty to say to one another, not just on peace and justice but also on ecclesiology, sacrament and doctrine. “We believe in community; we believe in the Church ? I mean in an intense kind of way. We believe in the incarnate value of grace,” said Harder.

The North American Academy of Ecumenists held its 2003 annual conference near Montreal, September 26-28, on the theme of Christ and Culture Revisited. Highlights of the conference included presentations on the theme by Susan Brown and Karen Hamilton; a look at Faith and Order in US and Canadian Perspectives by George Vandervelde, William Rusch and John Ford; First Nations in Context by Ed Bianci and Bilaterals in Canadian Context by Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Catherine Clifford, and Angelika Piché. A guided tour of four Montreal churches was much appreciated.

Paul Ricoeur, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and the University of Paris, received the Paul VI Prize for contributions to the development of a religious culture. The prize, which included a cash donation of more than $110,000 to a charity of the recipient’s choice, was given to Ricoeur, a Protestant, during an audience with Pope John Paul.

The World Council of Churches has endorsed the draft Convention on the International Protection of Places of Worship proposed to the United Nations by the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). The proposal document aims to ensure the equal treatment of all religious communities in the protection of places of worship. In addition, the convention will form Commissions on Public Places of Worship in participating countries, consisting of government officials and representatives of the various religious communities, to monitor the implementation of convention provisions. The full text of the convention proposal can be found at:

The first “Arab-Christian-Israeli” university has been given the go-ahead by the Israeli Government and opened in the village of Ibillin, northern Galilee, on 21 October. The new university is the idea of Fr. Elias Chacour, a Melkite priest and president of Mar Elias educational institutions, the biggest private school network in Israel. Open to Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druzes the Mar Elias University Campus (MEUC) “will meet a vital need for a serious academic environment where Christian, Muslim and Druze-Arab Israelis as well as Jewish Israelis will have the opportunity to study, plan and search together for a common future of peaceful coexistence,” said Fr. Chacour. Initially, MEUC will offer three-year degrees in computing science, chemistry and biology, with an option for graduates to continue their studies in Israel, the United States, or other international universities. Fourteen further fields of study are planned for phased introduction in the next six years.

“Without dialogue, this world will die,” said Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio at a three-day meeting of five hundred religious leaders from around the world and thousands of people gathered in September in Aachen Germany for the 2003 edition of “Men, Religions and Peace.” The event is held annually in a different city. The motto of this year’s meeting was “Between War and Peace: Religions and Cultures Meet.” Among those at the meeting were Cardinal Karl Lehman, president of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Nikolaus Schneider, president of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland. Other religious figures included Metropolitan Kyrill, in charge of Foreign Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church; former Chief Rabbi Meir Lau of Israel; and Mehmet Aydin, Turkish Minister of State. The event featured talks and workshops on topics ranging from war and abolition of capital punishment to the environment, prayer and immigration. Sant’Egidio began these meetings in the wake of the first interreligious prayer meeting convoked by John Paul II in Assisi, Italy, in 1987.

People of all faiths were invited in September, to a “Celebration of Abraham” held at the Holy Rosary Community Center in Woodland California. The event explored the common bond of the major monotheistic religions represented by Abraham and his journey of faith, the way he answered God’s call to travel from his homeland to an unknown country. Rabbi Greg Wolfe of Congregation Bet Haverim hoped that everyone would make the connection: “that just as Abraham received the call, this can be our call to understanding that we’re all on the same path together, that we’re all trying to make the world a more compassionate, loving place.” Hamza El-Nakhal, president of the Islamic Center of Davis, said “We find we’re really the same, the difference is in the details. We worship the same god, we’re all human beings, we all have feelings. The more we talked, the more we understood each other.”

A collective work in honour of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, French Orthodox theologian, was presented on her 96th birthday last July 20 in an ecumenical celebration at the Carmelite convent of St. Elie near Montbard, France. Among those present were metropolitan Daniel of Moldavia; Bishop Gérard Daucourt of Nanterre; Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy, dean of the Orthodox Theological Institute of Paris; Fr. Golay, provincial of the Discalced Carmelites of Paris; and members of various Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant religious communities. The volume: “Follow me! In honour of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel,” is a collection of some forty texts which reveal the diversity of perceptions of the authors coming from various denominations as well as the rich personality whom they honour. Author of numerous works on Orthodox spirituality and history and the ministry of women in the church Elisabeth Behr-Sigel entertains a forty- year friendship with the sisters of the St. Elie Byzantine Catholic Community which is dedicated to promoting closer ties between eastern and western Christians.

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