International news

 — Dec. 31, 200531 déc. 2005

Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the United Methodist Church in America can share Communion under an interim agreement approved 11 August 2005. The interim pact was approved by 94% of the 1,018 delegates attending the ELCA meeting in Orlando, Florida. The churches have a combined membership of 13 million and the ultimate goal is a “full communion” pact that will not only allow for the sharing of the Eucharist but enable clergy to move freely between both churches, especially in rural and urban areas where small congregations struggle to afford full-time pastors. (National Catholic Reporter)

The Holy See and the Lutheran World Federation are in the final stages of the writing of a joint document “on the Church’s apostolicity and apostolic succession.” The dialogue, which began in 1967, is held by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation and the pontifical council on Christian unity. The commission members are discussing a comprehensive draft report with the aim of making the document ready for publication in 2006. This is the last meeting in the present phase of the dialogue. Published reports include “The Eucharist” (1978); “Ways to Community” (1980); “The Ministry in the Church” (1981) and “Facing Unity” (1984). In 1999 a joint document was published on the doctrine of justification which resolved the principal disagreement with Marthin Luther and to which the Methodists hope to adhere “next year,” said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council on Christian unity. (

The Ninth Inter-Christian Symposium took place from 4-7 September 2005 in Assisi, Italy. The symposium was organized by the Spirituality Institute of the Pontifical University of the Antonianum of Rome and the Theological Faculty of the Aristotle University of Thessalonica, Greece. This year’s theme was “The Eucharist in the Eastern and Western traditions, with special reference to ecumenical dialogue.” It was introduced by Archbishop Yannis Spiteris, O.F.M. Cap., of Corfu, Greece, and elaborated on by six Orthodox and six Roman Catholic academics. His holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, sent a letter to Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in which he noted that the theme was very important for the lives of Christians and for re-establishing full communion among all Christ’s disciples. The letter continued: “The restoration of full Christian communion must be a goal for all who profess faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” (L’Osservatore Romano)

On 6 July 2005 leading Muslim clerics endorsed religious edicts (fatwas) forbidding the declaration of any Muslim an apostate (tafkir) and limiting the issuance of religious edicts to qualified Muslim clerics in the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The endorsement of the edicts was part of the final statement issued at the closing session of the International Islamic Conference. The joint statement, collecting signatures from scholars and clergy of the eight schools, is the first of its kind. The statement, issued in the presence of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, forbids declaring an adherent to any one of the eight schools of jurisprudence or to Sufism, an apostate, acknowledges the agreement among the eight schools on the fundamental principles of Islamic belief and practice, instructs the eight schools to establish a mechanism by which only qualified clergy could issue religious edicts and forbids the issuance of edicts by unqualified clergy, affirms the necessity and benefit of dialogue among the eight schools and urges Muslims to eschew discord and instead unite and fortify affinity among Muslim people and states. (MECC NewsReport)

The Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB) is opposed to the practice of re-baptism due to confessional issues, but does not reject re-baptized people. This statement came in a recent pastoral letter by Walter Altmann, President of the IECLB. The church is facing conflict, according to Revd Dr Gottfried Brakemeier, former president of the IECLB and former president of the Lutheran World Federation, as a result of internal movements such as the Lutheran Grassroots Pastoral movement, Encontrao Movement, the Christian Union Evangelical Mission, Martin Luther Communion, and Charismatic Renewal. Brakemeier has called for change within the Brazilian Lutheran church, saying its current structure was not viable for the church’s growth and future. His remarks came in an article he sent electronically in June to leaders and movements within the church as “a contribution toward a necessary debate.” After four pastors asked to be withdrawn from the church’s clergy roster, and three congregations constituted themselves independently, the IECL Council decided to distribute Brakemeier’s article widely for discussion within the church that has around 1,200 congregations served by more than 800 pastors. (Lutheran World Information)

An International Symposium from 1-3 December 2005 at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome treated “The Relation between Bishop and Local Church: Old and New Questions in Ecumenical Perspective.” The Ecumenical Institute San Bernardino of Venice and the Centro Pro Unione of Rome with the patronage of the Faculty of Theology of the Institut catholique de Paris and the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas of Rome invited a discussion and study of the ministry of bishops forty years after the Second Vatican Council. Four bishops personally engaged in the ecumenical field discussed their experience as well as problems connected with the ministry of bishops in their own ecclesial traditions (Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox). An ecclesiological reflection on the topic took into consideration: New Testament Times revisited; the formative centuries; current Canon Law, and Sociology and Practical Theology. An original feature of this symposium was the fact that the episcopate was discussed in the presence of bishops. The aim of the symposium was to identify the chief questions related to episcope and the episcopacy at both the ecumenical and pastoral levels. (Secretariat for the Symposium)

The 2005 conference of the North American Academy of Ecumenists was held 23- 25 September at the Bishop Malloy Passionist Retreat House in Jamaica Estates, NY. The theme for the event was “Forgiveness and the Healing of Memories: The Ecumenics of Reconciliation,” with John D. Roth as the keynote speaker. (Journal of Ecumenical Studies)

The URI-NAIN (United Religions Initiative-North American Interfaith Network) Connect 2005 event on the theme “Hospitality, Gratitude, and Interfaith Action in the World,” was held 12-16 August at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Co-sponsored by URI-NAIN and the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, the event’s speakers included Kay Lindahl from NAIN and URI; Charles Gibbs of URI; Sr Veronica of Brahma Kumaris International; Dirk Ficca of the Council for the Parliament of the World Religions and Catholic and Islamic spiritual leaders, Sr Jose Hobday and Cheikh Hamza Yussuf Hanson. For information: [ or or]. (Journal of Ecumenical Studies)

The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology sponsored an ecumenical conference on the problems and prospects facing church unity under the theme, “In One Body through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity.” It was held 11-13 September 2005 at the Centre of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, NJ Speakers included Robert W. Jenson, William Rusch, Susan Wood, David Yeager, Vigen Guroian, Cheryl Bridges Johns, Philip Turner, and Bruce McCormack. For information: []. (Journal of Ecumenical Studies)

Professor Hans Küng was awarded the first “Religions in Dialogue Award” by the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (JES), at a dinner honouring him. The JES is an academic journal that focuses on vitally important religious issues and consistently maintains a calibre of exemplary scholarship, intellectual inquisitiveness, and over-all excellence. The ceremony took place 16 November 2005 at Temple University Diamond Club in Philadelphia, PA, USA. (Journal of Ecumenical Studies)

The Revd Dr Sharon E. Watkins, senior minister of Disciples Christian Church in Bartlesville, Okla., is the first woman to be elected General Minister and President of the 750,000 member Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She becomes the seventh general minister and president to head the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and will serve in the denomination’s general offices in Indianapolis, Ind. (Latin American Ecumenical News)

The Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission held its first meeting 27 June – 1 July 2005, in Strasbourg, France. The mandate of the Commission is to consider the condemnations of Anabaptists in Lutheran confessional writings and their applicability to the teaching of Anabaptists/Mennonites today. Wider issues pertinent to Lutheran-Mennonite relations will also be included. At national level Lutheran-Mennonite dialogues have already been conducted in France (1981-1984), Germany (1989-1992) and the United States of America (2001-2004). These dialogues also considered the condemnations of Anabaptists in Lutheran confessions, and their outcomes constitute an important resource for the present international commission. The study commission’s work is expected to take at least three years, and it is hoped that an official declaration concerning the condemnations can be made by the governing bodies of the two world communions. Sponsored jointly by the LWF and the Mennonite World Conference (MWC), the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission is co-chaired by Revd Rainer Burkart (Mennonite, Germany) and Prof. Gottfried Seebass (Lutheran, Germany). (Lutheran World Information) The Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, focused its 2005 Summer Seminar on two currently divisive issues: genetic engineering and homosexuality. Sixty participants from different countries and confessions attended the seminar. Although opinions were diverse, the participants engaged in an “open and charitable debate finding a great deal of consensus and identifying areas for further discussion,” said Prof. Kenneth Appold, research professor at the institute and the seminar’s coordinator. Three keynote speakers addressed the issue of bio-ethics and agreed on a number of important principles such as the fundamental belief that human life is God’s creation and requires special protection at all stages of development. However, the speakers could not agree on how to define the beginning of life. On the topic of homosexuality, the participants shared experiences from their various home churches. They especially focused on how to respond to homosexual partnerships and whether to ordain homosexuals living in such partnerships. Revd Dr. Karen Bloomquist, director of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for Theology and Studies proposed theological and methodological perspectives for engaging the differences on this topic without their becoming church-dividing. Participants left with a sense that it is possible and necessary to continue these discussions in their own churches. (Lutheran World Information)

The Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI) is alarmed over the results of a study done in Delhi that found widespread selective abortions aimed at preventing women giving birth to girls. The study revealed that in families that had a third child after two girls, there were only 219 girls for 1,000 boys. Similarly, if the first child was a girl, there were only 558 girls for 1,000 boys. Data for the study came from scrutinizing 370,000 birth records in Delhi’s eight leading hospitals over a decade. “This data is really worrying and alarming,” noted Dr. Vijay Aruldas, general secretary of the CMAI, adding that the study confirmed that there was no difference between the educated and the uneducated in their gender prejudice. “Our study,” said Dr. Joe Varghese, co-ordinator of the CMAI Policy Advocacy and Research Group, “shows that parents are deliberately aborting female fetuses. Otherwise, there cannot be such a skewed sex ratio among children. The fact that 70 per cent of female fetuses are aborted in the case of the third child shows the magnitude of the problem.” The Delhi Medical Association, a forum of 10,000 doctors in the Indian capital, urged the medical community to avoid abortions beyond 12 weeks to curb the rampant female feticide. (Prairie Messenger)

The Lutheran leader in the Holy Land, Bishop Munib Younan, says if world leaders cannot succeed in negotiating peace in Israel and Palestinian areas, then church leaders should join with Jewish and Islamic leaders in assuming responsibility for this task. Speaking at the opening service of the council of the Lutheran World Federation being held in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, 31 August to 6 September, 2005, he said “if world leaders and politicians cannot make this dream a reality, and if they cannot get out of their narrow national interests and see the human suffering and hear the prayers of both, then the church locally and globally must more proactively assume its responsibility with people of good conscience and courage from Judaism and Islam.” The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem was overflowing as Younan preached before Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other Protestant leaders in Jerusalem as well as members of the local Islamic and Jewish communities. Younan, the Palestinian-born leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, appealed to the Lutheran World Federation “to use this church in Jerusalem as the site of an annual prayer rally for Christians, Muslims and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis to pray unceasingly until just peace and reconciliation becomes a reality.” (Prairie Messenger)

The French Ministry of Education reported, a week after children returned to school, that only one Sikh boy and eleven Muslim girls defied the ban on wearing “conspicuous” religious accessories in public school. Those numbers contrast sharply with the 240 infractions registered on the first day of school in 2004 when the ban went into effect, and 639 for the entire 2004-05 year. The ban sparked ire on the part of some religious groups — notably Muslims — in France and abroad. It was cited as one reason for the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq last year. Both were freed in December. (National Catholic Reporter)

The nineteenth interreligious gathering organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio took place from 11-13 September 2005 in Lyon, France. The theme was “Courage for a Peaceful Humanism.” The Rome-based lay community founded in 1968 now counts 50,000 members active in 60 countries. At the meeting leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and other backgrounds stressed that violence is an abuse of religion, and that the various religions share common yearnings for peace, justice, human rights, defense of the poor and understanding. “The path of peace is dialogue,” read the final appeal, issued 13 September in the name of all the participants. While there was relatively little new to veterans of inter-religious meetings, there were several concrete ideas floated to translate these ideas into reality. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, proposed that religious leaders around the world form “covenants” at the local level to come to one another’s defense if one religion is the victim of either physical or verbal violence. René-Samuel Sirat, the grand rabbi of France, suggested that prospective Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy undergo common seminary studies in the history of ideas, religious sociology and philosophy, while maintaining separate courses in theology and the study of sacred texts. The chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, proposed a sort of “Hippocratic Oath” for clergy, a vow to foreswear any religious justification of violence. Georgetown will host the next Sant’Egidio inter-religious summit, in Washington 26-27 April 2006. It will be the first time the event, known as the “Peoples and Religions” assembly, will take place in the United States. Co-sponsors include the Washington archdiocese and The Catholic University of America. (National Catholic Reporter/Prairie Messenger)

A new form of interfaith relationship is taking place at St Ethelburga’s Anglican church in the City of London, England. As the majority of the Anglican parishes in the London diocese have from 10 to over 25 percent of their population belonging to non-Christian faith communities, parish members are encouraged to build stable relationships of trust, reciprocity and engagement with their neighbours. St Ethelburga does this through Scriptural Reasoning, a communal practice of reading the Jewish, Christian and Islamic scriptures together. Texts are chosen from the three traditions that focus on a common figure (e.g. Abraham) or theme or issue such as “creation,” “work” or “sacrifice.” Texts from the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic Midrash or Talmud, New Testament or Christian exegesis, the Qur’ân or Hadith are distributed to participants ahead of the meeting — ideally, intimate groups of between six and ten people, each with a good balance between the three traditions, and a convenor to ensure that everyone who wants to has the opportunity to contribute. Each of the texts is introduced in turn by someone from whose tradition it derives and is then opened up for more general discussion. Over time, each begins to inhabit the other’s reading of their scripture whilst remaining rooted in their own. This favours the formation of a new Abrahamic reading community that can generate surprising levels of friendship and understanding. This community is not built around the assertion of common meanings or beliefs or ways of reading but the sharing of a common task. Participants meet outside their churches, mosques, synagogues, at special times and in separate places, likened to the biblical “tent of meeting.” No single tradition plays the role of host and no single one plays the role of guest; rather each tradition takes responsibility for safe-guarding a mutual space in which one another’s texts may be studied and shared. (The Tablet)

The United Nations has declared 27 January as an annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, in memory of the victims of the atrocity. The resolution had the strong support of the Holy See and was co-sponsored by 104 member states. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the United Nations would do its part to keep the memory alive in a bid to prevent future acts of genocide. Currently, 27 January is officially recognized as a day of remembrance for Holocaust victims in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany. It marks the day in 1945 when an advancing Soviet army liberated the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. (Zenit)

A conference on the factors involved in the coexistence between believers of different religions and unbelievers in contemporary society took place on 8 September at the old farm of Granges de Port-Royal des Champs in France. Jean Delumeau, the historian, chaired the meeting. After an introduction on “Tolerance and Secularism” by Jean Delumeau, the conference heard the following speakers: Olivier Christin on “A Suspicious Familiarity between Roman Catholics and Protestants,” Monique and Bernard Cottret on “Tolerance According to Rousseau,” Géraud Pomarède on “Islam in France from the 16th to the 18th century,” and Rita Hermon-Belot on “Acknowledging Judaism as a French Religion.” In the afternoon the speakers were: Philippe Boutry on “The Question of Religious Liberty Since the Syllabus,” F. Benoît Billot on “What Buddhism Can Bring to a Christian Monk,” Haziza Maadi and Marie-José Michel on “Living Together at the University” and Abeelwahah Hechiche on “Interreligious Dialogue: An Imperative for the 21st Century.” (Translated from la Croix)

The Oikocredit agency, whose head office is in the Netherlands, announced on 6 October 2005 that it had approved a record financing during the first nine months of this year in the microfinance sector which, among other things, provides small loans called microcredit to those who are short of money. Thirty years after its launching, the international development cooperative which is linked to the Churches declared that it is a world leader in the field of financing small loans to disadvantaged people in order to help them start their own small businesses. Oikocredit was founded as an ecumenical cooperative society for development in 1975 by the World Council of Churches (WCC) with a view to offering churches a means of investment that is socially fair and responsible. The treasurers of the Churches were sceptical at first but Oikocredit now underlines that no investor ever lost money. Microfinance received a new boost when the United Nations declared 2005 as the International Year of Microcredit. (Translated from ENI)

An interspiritual celebration called “A Cry from the Earth” took place on 4 December at St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. The celebration, organized by members of the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities, centred on the framework of the 11th United Nations Conference on Climate Change held from 28 November to 9 December in Montreal. At each such United Nations conference the World Council of Churches has organized an interreligious celebration that unites hundreds of people of all faiths and beliefs. The Oratory was chosen because it is a symbol of large spiritual gatherings and has a long record of openness to other religious groups. The celebration emphasized listening to the victims of climatic changes and the healing of the planet, from developing countries and the Canadian arctic. It was at once a celebration of God’s creation, a time for repentance for the Earth’s destruction and a unique occasion for people to renew their promise to take care of creation in solidarity with all the victims of climate changes wherever they may be. (Translated from Aujourd’hui Credo)

The 2005 Interchurch Families Conference, “Sharing Our Dream Downunder,” was hosted by the Association of Australian Interchurch Families and held 18-21 August in Newcastle, New South Wales with clergy and lay participation from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Canada. Canadians present from upover were Interchurch couples Fenella and Ray Temmerman of Winnipeg, MB, and Joy and Édouard Bédard of Pointe-Claire, QC. Presentations and discussions included the Lived Experience of Families, Healing Hurts in some Australian Dioceses, Toward Realizing our Dreams, Celebrating Interchurch Families, Ecumenical Challenges and Significance for our Churches. The conference was graced by the presence and valuable input of Dr Ruth Reardon, theologian, AIF U.K.; Bishop Michael Malone, Roman Catholic; Revd Dr Gerard Kelly, Roman Catholic theologian; Bishop Graeme Rutherford, Anglican; Dr Chris Budden, Uniting Church of Australia; Revd Michael Grosas, Lutheran; Revd David Campbell, Presbyterian, and Cardinal Edwards, Roman Catholic. The enlivening, welcoming co-ordinators were Bev and Kevin Hincks. Interchurch couples began meeting in the 1960’s and there are now groups in more than twelve countries. Previous international conferences have been held in Rome (2003), Canada (2001), Geneva (1999) and Virginia (1996). The 2006 AIF gathering will be hosted in Virginia, 19-23 July, 2006. For information, visit []. (CCE)

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