International news

 — Sept. 30, 200530 sept. 2005

Margaret O’Gara was elected Vice-President of the Catholic Theological Society of America on 10 June 2005. O’Gara is a professor of theology with the University of St. Michael’s College’s Faculty of Theology, Toronto School of Theology. She has been active in the ecumenical movement since 1976 and sits on the Lutheran-Roman Catholic International Commission on Unity, the Disciples of Christ-Roman Catholic International Commission for Dialogue and the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue. The 1400-member professional society for Canadian and American theology professors serves as a clearinghouse for theological scholarship and analysis of new developments in theology. (The Catholic Register)

Pope Benedict XVI repeated his pledge to promote Christian unity as he welcomed the Revd Samuel Kobia, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, to the Vatican on 16 June 2005. He told the Council’s delegation, “In the very first days of my pontificate, I stated that my primary task is the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.” He reiterated, “The commitment of the Catholic Church to the search for Christian unity is irreversible.” Kobia expressed to the Pope the need for Christians to strengthen the common spiritual basis of their co-operation and together offer the world “moral clarity and confidence amid today’s turbulent human landscape of shifting values, uncertain hopes and crumbling commitments.” He called on Christian communities to do much more to educate their members in ecumenism and asked that the Faith and Order Commission, which includes Vatican representatives, take up the question of church structure and what it means to be “church.” Pope Benedict did not respond directly to his request, but said the Vatican-WCC joint working group would meet in November, and his hope and prayer was that the group’s purpose and working methodology will be further clarified for the sake of ever more effective ecumenical understanding, co-operation and progress.” (The Catholic Register)

Vatican and Anglican Communion officials have agreed that the work of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission will resume. Meetings of the commission were put on hold in 2003 after the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church and the decision of the New Westminster diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada to bless homosexual unions. On 9 May on the Vatican web site, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity announced that the reaffirmation of traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality by the primates of the Anglican Communion as well as efforts to find ways to ensure individual dioceses do not violate the bonds of communion provide “a foundation for continued dialogue and ecumenical co-operation.” Although the work of the commission as a whole was suspended in 2003, a subcommission of the group was established “to reflect jointly upon the ecclesiological issues” that had been created. The subcommission looked at questions about what unity or communion within the church means; how authority is exercised; how traditional church practices and moral teachings can be changed or adapted; and where authority to interpret Scripture lies. (The Catholic Register)

The North American Orthodox-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation continued discussion of authority and governance in a meeting from 6-8 June in Crestwood, N.Y. Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh and Roman Catholic Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati co-chaired the meeting at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. The theologians and church leaders exchanged information on recent major events in the lives of their churches, in addition to their theological discussions focusing on questions of primacy and conciliarity. (Catholic News Service)

The Roman Catholic, Jesuit-run Heythrop College is to become increasingly involved in the formation of Anglican clergy. The college, which is part of the University of London, is to offer Masters degrees in Anglican theology, beginning in September 2006. Dr John McDade, principal of the college, said the MA would be the only course of its kind in the country. “I noticed that more and more Anglican clergy were coming to study with us after being ordained,” he said. Nearly half the college’s intake for its MA in pastoral studies is made up of Anglican students, he added. (The Tablet)

The Hand in Hand elementary school in Jerusalem where children of different faiths are educated together is unlike any other in this ethnically and religiously diverse city. Here Jewish, Muslim and Christian kids literally learn hand in hand. While there is no legal separation between religion and state in Israel, Jewish and Arab children, whether Muslim or Christian, rarely if ever attend the same school together. Two schools — one in Jerusalem, the other in the Galilee — were established in 1997 by Lee Gordon and Amin Khalaf, Israelis of Jewish and Arab origin respectively. A third school, in the Arab village of Wadi Ara, opened in 2004. Combined, the schools have more than 500 students. What makes the schools unique is their absolute commitment to equality: Christianity, Islam and Judaism are given equal time in the classroom, as are Hebrew and Arabic. Within a few years, the students are more or less bilingual and well-versed in the basics of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Despite the inherent tensions built into a program that brings together such a diverse group of people with sometimes conflicting national aspirations, the schools do not shy away from politics. According to Dalia Peretz, the Jerusalem school’s co-principal, “When we deal with a subject, we tackle it from two points of view. The children can say what they think, but they know that they must respect other people’s feelings.” (Prairie Messenger)

Orientale Lumen IX was held 20-23 June at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Centre in Washington. The conference, a yearly gathering of Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians and church leaders, is named after Pope John Paul II’s 1995 apostolic letter Orientale Lumen (The Light of the East), praising the riches of the churches of the East and urging a restoration of East-West church unity. This year’s theme was Structure of the Church East and West. Msgr Johan Jozef Bonny, an official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and one of the speakers at the conference, asked whether the divergences of East and West in the second millennium are “mutually exclusive” or whether they can be seen “as different evolutions, conditioned by different historical circumstances, able to be integrated into a new synthesis.” He linked the evolution of papal primacy in the West to the need for the church of Rome to respond to particular challenges concerning the unity of the church in various circumstances. While forms of church structures in the first millennium form “our common ground, our common patrimony,” he said, “the developments of the second millennium should also be a part of our common reflection” in trying to envision the shape of possible Roman Catholic-Orthodox unity in the future. (Prairie Messenger)

The 475th anniversary of the 1530 Augsburg Confession, the central statement of faith of the Lutheran Reformation, was the occasion for the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Revd Ishmael Noko, to urge progress in Christian unity. Augsburg, he noted, was also the setting in 1999 for the signing of a joint declaration by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. This stated there was a consensus in basic truths about the doctrine of justification, one of the points at issue at the time of the Reformation. Noko added that “the action of confirming the Joint Declaration has put in place an ecumenical bridge enabling God’s people to walk with confidence toward new ecumenical possibilities and new horizons. We are challenged to find ways of living a shared faith and life in the proclamation of the Gospel and worship that is expressed in the common celebration of the Lord’s table” The Lutheran World Federation groups 66 million Christians in seventy-seven countries. (Prairie Messenger)

The Orthodox Churches are set to revive what has been a stalled theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, said the head of an Orthodox delegation on a visit to the Vatican. All the Orthodox Churches have now responded positively to the request of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to appoint delegates to a mixed commission on theological dialogue, Metropolitan John of Pergamum said in a 30 June address to Pope Benedict XVI. Metropolitan John was in Rome to represent Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the 29 June celebration of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. (Prairie Messenger)

The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) has received an invitation from the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) to “bilateral conversation, or dialogue, about issues of common interest, ministry and concern.” Conversations have begun over the past year and could lead to a more formal ecumenical partnership which the CRC calls an “ecclesiastical fellowship” between the two denominations. This summer’s General Assembly of the PCC received the report and approved a recommendation to continue this dialogue. (

Israel’s tiny Christian minority is in a unique position to promote reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians in the nation, but needs help to do so effectively, said a Melkite Catholic priest from Galilee during a visit to the Detroit area. “I hope there will be some motivated Christians who would care for the survival of Christianity in the Holy Land, and its important role between the Muslim minority and Jewish majority, because we Christians represent the voice of moderation,” said Revd Elias Chacour, founder of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Israel. (Prairie Messenger)

The 2005 Luminosa Award for Unity was presented to Canadian Senator Douglas Roche on 7 May in Hyde Park, N.Y. He was Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament at the U.N. from 1984 to 1989 and the founding President of Parliamentarians for Global Action, an international network of 1,200 parliamentarians in eighty-two countries. Recognized throughout the world for his work, Senator Roche received the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation for World Peace Award, the U.N. Association’s Medal of Honour and in 1995, Pope John Paul II presented him with the Papal Medal for his service as Special Adviser on disarmament and security matters. Through the annual Luminosa Award for Unity, the Focolare Movement recognizes persons or groups who have made a significant contribution to the ideal of unity. Previous recipients include Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, Revd Nichiko Niwano, President of the Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai, Rabbi Jack Bemeporad for his work in Christian-Jewish dialogue, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Muslim American leader, and ecumenist Dr Paul Crow, Jr of the Disciples of Christ. (Living City)

United Methodist bishops have approved an agreement to share the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with Episcopalians and Lutherans, the first step in moving the three churches toward full communion. Church officials expect similar agreements to be approved by the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America within a year. The agreement allows the three denominations to share communion and join in ministry together. The Methodists hope to enter full communion with the Lutherans by 2008 and with the Episcopalians by 2012. (The Banner)

A Canadian has been appointed for the first time, to the top leadership role in the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). Geoff Tunnicliffe is the new chief executive officer for the WEA for the next two years. He has been a member of the Global Leadership team of the WEA Mission Commission for seven years and has also served as president of International Teams Canada before becoming director of global initiatives for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). He was also involved in several joint EFC/WEA projects. The Archbishop of Canterbury asked him to join with other Christian leaders to discuss a joint statement on global poverty in a meeting with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair just prior to the G8 meetings (6-8 July). Tunnicliffe will continue as a pastor at South Delta Baptist Church. (BC Christian News)

Zainab Al-Ghazali, leading Muslim female preacher and activist, died on 3 August at the age of eighty-eight. She groomed generations of female preachers who defended the status of women in Islam. Early in her youth, she was an active member of the Egyptian Feminist Union, founded by Huda Sharawi in 1923. At the age of twenty in 1937, she founded the Muslim Women’s Association in order to organize women’s activities according to Islamic norms and for Islamic purposes. The women in the Association firmly believed that their religion permitted them to play a pivotal role in public life, hold jobs, enter politics and speak their minds. Ghazali resigned her membership in disagreement with the secular ideas of the women’s liberation movement. She was an outspoken defender of Shari’ah and often ran into trouble with the regime of late Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Naser. She left behind a reputation of a Muslim feminist, who undoubtedly set Islamic values before secular and liberal ideologies. (

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Samuel Kobia, has made the organization’s first official visit to Russia. The visit included meetings in the important Orthodox centres of the Trinity St Sergius Monastery and the Moscow Theological Academy. The delegation also visited the Butovo Memorial, to honour the thousands of victims, including many members of the clergy and monastic orders, shot to death during Stalin’s purges of the 30s. The General Secretary met with the Russian Patriarch Alexis II and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad on 21 June. (Translated from Proximo)

Russia’s Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate has come closer to healing an eight-decade division with a Russian Orthodox Church abroad that has run its own affairs since a schism after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was formed in the 1920s, mostly by exiles who escaped Bolshevik persecution at the time of the Russian revolution, and it has nine dioceses in North and South America, western Europe and the former Soviet Union. However, the churches indicated that reunification could lead to a downgrading of ties with other Christian denominations. Under the plans to mend the split, the church abroad would become a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The proposals say that “official declarations, decisions and epistles” expressing mutual rejection since the 1920s would be rendered invalid once full communion was restored. (Prairie Messenger)

Le Centre Unité, a new meeting place, has been opened by the Focolari in Rotselaar, in Belgian Flanders. Already active in ecumenical dialogue and conversations with Muslims and Jews, the Centre sees its goal as “consolidating relationships which demonstrate that what brings us together is much greater than what separates us,” as a Focolari leader explained. (Translated from la Croix)

For the first time, the Seventh Day Adventist Church has elected a woman as its vice-president. During a press conference on 4 July, Ella Simmons, originally from Louisville, KY, recalled that she had been one of the first African Americans to attend an integrated school, and she hailed the desire of her Church to open its leadership to all. The Church has 14.3 million baptised adult members in over 200 countries, and it estimates that some 25 million people attend its weekly services. (Translated from ENI)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has opened a new centre of ecumenical
near Geneva which, it is hoped, will foster the growth of understanding between individuals and among world religions. The centre will broaden the Council’s academic research capacity in questions of ecumenism and theology, and it will supplement the principal site of the library and archives at the WCC headquarters in Geneva. The library holds more than 130,000 books and periodicals, as well as thousands of archival documents, photos and videos covering the history of the ecumenical movement from the 19th century to the present. The library’s website is: (Translated from ENI)

The Revd Setri Nyomi received the 2005 E.H. Johnson Prize to honour his work for interfaith dialogue. This award, founded by the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1983, bears the name of a missionary who died in 1981. Pastor Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), reminded his listeners that Christians must cooperate with believers of other faiths in order to promote social justice in all its forms. He stated that it is necessary to use the various religious resources available when we want to solve problems which affect a given community. However, he said we should beware of the divisions which sap the coherence of several Churches and he denounced the antagonisms which many Christians are tempted to fuel in the course of their missionary activities. (Translated from Proximo)

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