International news

 — June 30, 200530 juin 2005

The Catholic and Protestant branches of the British Royal Army Chaplains’ Department have been merged into a single ecumenical team. Since 1920 the department has had a Roman Catholic branch and a Unified branch which included the Anglican Church, Church of Scotland, Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches. Under the new arrangements, a single head of service known as the Chaplain-General heads all denominations. (The Tablet)

In a joint statement, Israeli and Palestinian officials announced that they will collaborate in promoting pilgrimages and tourism to the Holy Land. The statement explains “that tourism is not only a major economic force, and an important tool for nations’ prosperity, but also a means of bringing peace and building bridges of confidence between peoples of the Middle East.” (Zenit)

Belgium plans to ban civil servants who directly deal with the public from wearing overt religious symbols. Earlier in 2004, Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael had called for a law similar to French legislation banning Islamic headscarves in schools. (Reuters)

Experts at an international conference near Stockholm in November said that men all over the world distort the teachings of Islam and Christianity to justify abusing their wives and daughters, leading to thousands of “honour” killings a year for which courts provide virtual impunity. United Nations estimates show that more than 5,000 women are murdered every year in “honour”-related violence, but the real number could be much higher. Patriarchal violence against women pays no heed to religion, but in many cases is rooted in cultural and tribal beliefs. While most cases are reported in Muslim countries, “honour” violence also occurs among Christian families, delegates said. (Reuters)

Following a November conference to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (Unity Restored), Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, acknowledged that the mood of ecumenical enthusiasm following the Second Vatican Council no longer prevailed. Instead, he said, ecumenical dialogue was “in a state of maturation or of necessary clarification.” At the close of a conference which brought together Catholic bishops from around the world and representatives from twenty-seven other denominations, Pope John Paul II warned Christians against relying on experts on ecumenism to achieve unity, saying the ecumenical imperative applied to “every Christian of every diocese and parish, of every community and church.” (The Tablet)

More than fifty bishops of various churches: Anglican, Armenian, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, from eighteen countries participated in the 23rd Ecumenical Congress of Bishops in Istanbul in December. The bishops, all friends of the Focolare Movement, promised to apply the evangelical commandment of reciprocal love “so that Christ will always live among us and the world will also be able to believe thanks to our contribution,” said the archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. Bartholomew I opened the eight-day congress. Dialogue encounters followed with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, with Apostolic Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Mesrob II, and with the Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Turkey, Filüksinos Yusuf Çetin. (Zenit)

The civil authorities of Qatar have set aside a large piece of land for the construction of a Christian ecumenical complex in Doha which will house five churches when completed in 2006. Since the seventh century no church has been built in Qatar where Islam is the official religion. The symbolic laying of the foundations is “deeply meaningful” for interreligious and intercultural dialogue according to Fr. Justo Lacunza, director of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies. (Translated from la Croix)

Rev. Lukas Vischer, former director of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, explains: “Protestant churches admit more and more that the radical rejection of the veneration of saints has harmed them,” and see the value of “communion with these witnesses of the past.” At the suggestion of the Faith and Order Commission, the monastic community of Bose in Italy published (2002) a list of saints and martyrs to strengthen Christian solidarity in prayer and action. A joint working group has recently been formed to re-visit this work and develop the most complete calendar of saints and martyrs from all Christian traditions ever assembled. (Translated from Choisir)

A new Centre for interfaith study, meetings and dialogue has been started by Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims at Angers in France. For Fr. Renier, “the study and meeting Centre will have to respond to news events as they happen. At those moments, we have to explain what we are about and show that places exist where people are more interested in dialogue than in confrontation.” The new association plans to create an endowment fund for a library and for documentation. Topics to be explored this year include: women in different religions; the role of the priest, the pastor the imam and the rabbi; making room for the younger generation. (Translated from la Croix)

The Muslim-Christian dialogue group in Nevers, France, meets twice quarterly either at the Mosque of Forgiveness, the Catholic diocese or the Reformed Church. The impetus for these meetings, which began five years ago, came from Fr. Jean Baffier, parish priest and diocesan delegate for immigrants and from Zuhair Mahmood who is in charge of interreligious relations for the Union of Islamic Organizations of France and director of the European Institute of Human Sciences where imams for all of Europe are trained. The Nevers group has set itself the goal: to take the time to get to know each other, to understand each other, and to discover the spiritual tradition of the other with respect for the faith of each one and in the abundance of one’s own faith. “We are not trying to convert each other,” explains retired teacher, Claude Loussier, “but to get to know each other behind the caricatures, prejudices and misleading abbreviations in a spirit of friendship, deeply acknowledging our differences in the desire to work together for peace here and now.” (Translated from la Croix)

The Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities of Davis and Woodland in California gathered on January 9th to observe the second annual “Celebration of Abraham.” The annual event, launched in September of 2003, is an attempt to build bridges among the faith communities and to increase understanding and awareness of the three monotheistic faith traditions. (CAIR-SV)

A special service of prayer and support for the Al-Baqi Islamic Centre mosque was held January 2nd at Wesley United Methodist Church in Springfield, Massachusetts. Some fifty people from all denominations showed support for the Muslims who lost their house of worship to a fire on December 8th. Seven youths have been charged with arson. “We just wanted to do something to let you know how important you are to us,” said The Rev. Karen Rucks, executive director of the Council of Churches of Springfield. The Council spearheaded a fund-raising effort in favour of the mosque. The Rev. Cordella J. Brown, who immediately opened her church for the special service, said, “They are a community of faith. To be Muslim is to worship the same God as Christians and Jews.” (Republican)

Beginning in January, a five-week series of classes on Christianity and Islam was presented by the Rev. Robert Flaherty of First United Methodist Church in Roseburg, Oregon. While Islam and Christianity have coexisted as two of the world’s oldest known religions, they are often characterized by their differences. “Until we, on both sides, are willing to stop these negative characterizations… we’re just perpetuating animosity,” Flaherty said. (News Review)

The next European Ecumenical Assembly, following Basel in 1989 and Graz in 1997, will be held in September 2007 in Sibiu (Transylvania), Romania. These meetings are organized jointly by the Conference of European Churches which includes Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, and the Catholic Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. The theme of the 2007 Assembly is: “Christian Witness in Europe.” (Translated from Nouvelles œcuméniques internationales)

Some 40,000 young people from across Europe gathered in Lisbon, Portugal, Dec. 28-Jan.1 for the 27th “Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth.” Since 1978, the Taizé ecumenical community has organized this year-end event aimed at bringing young people together to meet and pray and deepen their faith. (Zenit)

According to a HCD Research survey of 1,100 Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist physicians in the U.S., seventy-two percent said religion provides a necessary, reliable guide to life, fifty-nine percent said they prayed for individual patients, fifty-eight percent said they attended worship at least once a month and forty-six percent said they prayed in their own lives. (The Lutheran)

The first meeting of the new International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in January 2004. The Delegation of the Oriental Orthodox Churches has fourteen members, two for each of the Churches represented, and as many Catholic members. A subsequent meeting of the International Joint Commission held in Rome from 26-29 January 2005, treated the theme: “The Church as communion” from the biblical, theological and canonical viewpoints. (L’Osservatore Romano)

Milan will host the next Taizé prayer meeting of European young people from December 28, 2005 to January 1, 2006. Organized by the Taizé Ecumenical Community, the meeting is part of a pilgrimage of confidence across the earth. Lisbon, Hamburg, Paris and Budapest were the last cities to host the year-end prayer meetings. (Zenit)

The Tanzanian Cultural Trust Fund honoured Maryknoll Sister Jean Pruitt in February 2005 for her work with Nyumba ya Sanaa (house of art), which has taken the works of Tanzanian artists to more than thirty international art exhibitions as well as helped hundreds of people learn skills needed to earn their livings as crafts people. (National Catholic Reporter)

World Council of Churches’ leader, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, met Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on 16 June. The meeting was announced soon after a senior Vatican official urged theological dialogue to be more central to the work of the Geneva-based church grouping. The Roman Catholic Church does not belong to the WCC, but it has members on some of its bodies, including its Faith and Order Commission, which seeks to bring churches into theological dialogue to promote church unity. After Pope Benedict’s election in April, Kobia said he hoped the new Pope would “initiate new ways of cooperation between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches.” In the early 1970s, Benedict, then German theology professor Joseph Ratzinger, was a member of the WCC Faith and Order Commission. Later he was the first Roman Catholic co-chair of a Roman Catholic-Protestant commission in Germany which helped pave the way for a global Roman Catholic-Lutheran agreement on the doctrine of justification, a key divisive issue at the time of the Reformation. Still, as the Vatican’s guardian of doctrine, Cardinal Ratzinger reaped criticism for a 2000 statement which said Protestant denominations were not “churches in the proper sense.” After being elected Pope, Benedict said, however, he wanted to promote Christian unity. (Bulletin ENI)

Following a May 2004 seminar with Paul Knitter and Rita Gross, the Multifaith Ministry Ecumenical Consortium (MMEC), a collaborative initiative of several northeast U.S. seminaries, held a May 2005 ten-day immersion experience that introduced participants to the major religious communities and their spiritual practices in New York City. For information, e-mail Dean Hancock at []. (Auburn Views)

The Annual Meeting of the Joint Commission of the Conference of European Churches (KEK) and the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) was held in Chartres, France, February 3-6. Among the items discussed by the twelve Commission members were the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly planned for 2007, inter-church marriages and relations with Muslims. An ecumenical prayer service was held in the cathedral on February 4th. (Translated from la Croix)

Protestants in France number 1.3 million (2.2% of the total population) according to a poll commissioned by the weekly paper “Réforme.” Of these, 900,000 belong to groups affiliated with the Protestant Federation of France. The survey also reveals that one-third of French Protestants are part of the evangelical movement. (Translated from la Croix)

In launching the “Decade for Romani (Gypsy) Integration” in Sofia on February, 2005, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro have united their efforts to combat the illiteracy, unemployment and isolation which plague this important minority of the continent’s poorest. (Translated from la Croix)

Charles Townes, an American physicist, received the 2005 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research of Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. This Nobel laureate, 89, whose inventions include the maser and laser and who has spent decades as a leading advocate for the convergence of science and religion, says he intends to give a major portion of the US$1.5 million prize money to Furman University, with substantial amounts going to the Pacific School of Religion, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, the Berkeley Ecumenical Chaplaincy to the Homeless, and the First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Well known for his promotion of dialogue between scientists and theologians, Townes recently explained that “science is surrounded by mystery — only 5% of the material of the universe is understood and scientists are more and more aware of the mysteries and contradictions in their work.” The Duke of Edinburgh awarded the prize to Townes in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 4. (ENI and

The Rev. Rosemarie Wenner, 49, has become the first woman to be elected bishop of the United Methodist Church in Germany and the denomination’s first female bishop outside the United States. At the same time, the Old Catholic Church in Germany ordained Alexandra Caspari as its first woman priest on Feb. 26 at a ceremony in Karlsruhe. The Old Catholic Church was founded after the First Vatican Council in 1870 declared papal infallibility. (ENI)

The Niwano Peace Foundation announced that the 2005 Niwano Peace Prize is awarded to the famous seventy-six year old Swiss-born Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng who is the president of the Global Ethic Foundation in Tubingen. The Niwano Peace Prize – which consists of 20 million yen (US$ 192,000), a medal and a certificate is given to persons or organizations who play an important role in promoting peace and interreligious cooperation. The prize was awarded during a ceremony in Tokyo on 11 May. Nichiki Niwano, the president of Rissho Kosei-kai, the lay Buddhist association that established the Niwano Peace Foundation, said that “Hans Küng has made a remarkable contribution to the growth of a climate favourable to dialogue and cooperation among world religions that is necessary to establish world peace.” In a communiqué, Lutheran Bishop, Gunnar Staalsett of Oslo, a member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and president of the International Committee for the Niwano Prize, affirmed that “the scholarly contributions and strategic mind of Hans Küng have moved both religious leaders and ordinary people to build bridges for common service to humanity.” (ENI)

A new grouping that brings together a wide range of US churches and church bodies will be officially launched in June. The new organization, Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT-USA), will officially inaugurate its work on 1-3 June at a Jesuit retreat centre in Los Altos, California. It is the first time the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined such a church grouping. The bishops formally declared their support for the initiative in late 2004. (Bulletin ENI)

The Decade to Overcome Violence will dedicate its last three years to Europe, the Pacific Islands and the West Indies. The campaign was launched in 2001 to sustain and coordinate the efforts of the member churches of the WCC to promote peace, justice and reconciliation. The WCC General Secretary, Pastor Samuel Kobia, said that “when a special emphasis is placed on a region, questions of violence become visible among the Churches of that region.” (Bulletin ENI)

The Central Committee of the WCC has adopted a process to make decisions through consensus. This undertaking is the result of the recommendations of a special commission put in place by the WCC to respond to concerns expressed by the Orthodox member Churches. Decision by consensus implies a series of measures to arrive at agreement, without recourse to a formal vote. The Catholicos Aram 1 of the Armenian Apostolical Church and president of the Central Committee is convinced “that this model for consensus will allow orthodox churches to reactivate their participation in the life of the WCC. (Bulletin ENI)

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