International news

 — Mar. 31, 200631 mars 2006

On 18 November 2005, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching issued the results of a study which stated that Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish seminaries in the United States are doing a good job of integrating academic knowledge with the practical skills students will need as leaders of faith communities. The report was based on interviews with 300 students, teachers and alumni of eighteen seminaries and also involved on-site visits to several of the seminaries. It also said that the seminaries’ formation programmes that develop the “ministerial, priestly or rabbinic identity” needed by future religious leaders are strong. (Prairie Messenger)

The web page of Harvard University Forum on Religion and Ecology at [] lists over 100 grassroots projects around the world involving religious traditions attempting to solve in creative, spiritual ways their own local environmental problems. The Iranian government has included a platform in its program that draws on principles from the Qur’ân for environmental justice. The environmental minister of China said recently that the Chinese people need to draw on the wisdom of Confucianism and Taoism to protect the environment. The forum’s Web site details many ecology projects within Judaism, including the Eco Kosher Network, which seeks to connect the Jewish idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) with consumer practices. The “Green Patriarch” Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, has taken bold steps to make conservation an integral part of faith and has declared that “crime against the natural world is a sin.” Together with Pope John Paul II, he signed a document calling for an end to the destruction of the environment. In Malaysia, in 2004, 3,000 volunteers planted 30,000 trees in a nature reserve on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Monks in Thailand are ordaining trees to protect them from exploitation by loggers. In India, efforts to clean the Ganges River watershed are deeply rooted in the Hindu religious tradition. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church works closely with the Shona people to plant a million trees a year. The forum’s efforts to deepen the conversation about religion and nature bear fruit in activism described on its Web site. (National Catholic Reporter)

Inside Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles Church, in the heart of Paris, in an area filled with human and spiritual misery, a chapel has been dedicated to street people who have died, homeless, living on the sidewalks and for the most part dying unknown. Thirty-three small frames are hung on the wall, each with a name of a deceased street person. The average age is 35-40. Close by is a sculpture of St Joseph Benoît Labre, “patron of the homeless” and those of no fixed address. The little chapel was created through the Freedom to the Captives Association (Aux captifs, la liberation), founded in 1981 by Fr Patrick Giros who for twenty-four years has worked with some of the most alienated people in the centre of Paris. The chapel was blessed on 2 October 2005. (Translated from œcuménisme-Informations)

Bulgaria may introduce mandatory religious instruction in schools. Although Bulgaria was officially atheist and communist until sixteen years ago, the Minister of Education, Daniel Vulchev, has agreed to conduct a survey of public opinion to see if religious education should be introduced in schools. Speaking to a parliamentary commission on individual rights and religious affairs, he said that of the one million pupils in the country, about 13,336 followed some form of religious instruction, with Islam taught to 3,947 students. The majority of the 7.4 million inhabitants of Bulgaria say that they belong to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and 12% of the population is Muslim. The Minister underlined that at present only 158 teachers were trained to teach religious education. (Translated from Ecumenical News International)

Some 150 delegates took part in Rome from 24-27 January in the launching of the third European Ecumenical Assembly, now called the EEA3. Convoked by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the initiative continues the tradition of the European Ecumenical Assemblies held in Switzerland in 1989 and in Austria in 1997 as well as on the Charta Oecumenica, signed in Strasbourg in 2001. This time, there is not just one event but a process in four stages. The second stage will include a series of ecumenical meetings at the national or regional level throughout Europe in the second half of 2006 or the start of 2007. Wittenberg, Germany, will be the venue for the third stage from 15-18 February 2007, in which the 150 delegates mentioned, will come together. Finally, the assembly itself, attended by some 3,000 delegates, will be held in Sibiu, Romania, from 4-8 September 2007. Meetings will be organized at the same time, where possible, in other European cities. The theme for the meetings is “The Light of Christ Shines Upon All: Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe.” (

Bishop Mvume Dandala, general secretary of the All Africa Council of Churches, on a visit to Canada in the fall of 2005, said that Africa’s greatest challenge is inspiring Africa’s churches and their Western partners to work together to eradicate the problems of widespread poverty, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and civil wars. He noted that: “Churches are agents of transformation and service but unless there is a collective commitment to deal with the issues of the world, our witness will continue to fall short.” He said the council’s task is to make the churches work together while disagreeing and encourage church leaders to keep the priorities for the continent in place. Although Dandala said he understands the concerns of the church regarding issues such as the blessing of same-sex relationships, focusing all energy on them only hurts efforts to aid Africa in its struggles. He said the main priorities of Africa “far outweigh the issue of same-sex.” “There has to be more of a cooperative rather than competitive spirit that has characterized the life of the church in Africa,” he said. “Our challenge is to think more and more about the ways that are going to empower the people of Africa to take their future into their own hands and to be more proactive in seeking to defeat poverty and illiteracy. As long as there are ecumenists, let’s bring them together and let’s keep trying.” (Presbyterian Record)

More than thirty religious leaders from the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam issued a joint statement at the conclusion of a week-long training on the role of religious leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, expressing their determination to collaborate on all fronts to prevent and control the spread of the pandemic. Gebregziabiher Berhe of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church said the training provided an opportunity to learn from the Roman Catholic Church’s experience of care and support for persons living with HIV. A representative from the Muslim community, Ato Salih Abubeker, also underlined the significance of the training. (Africa InfoServ: )

A group of Pentecostal scholars and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) representatives met for the second time in September 2005 at the Institute of Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France to deepen mutual understanding of their respective communities and lay the groundwork for long-term dialogue. Participants discussed “How Do We Encounter Christ?” both theologically and with a view toward devising an ecumenical methodology appropriate to both traditions. Substantial areas of agreement were revealed on central issues such as justification by faith and the normative role of Scripture for religious experience. The group will meet for three additional years beginning in 2006 to study ways in which each tradition encounters Christ in proclamation, sacrament and charisms. The next meeting is expected to take place in Pasadena, California, USA. (Lutheran World Information)

Prominent religious leaders in Indonesia are urging Muslims not to join extremist forces believed responsible for a series of well-publicized suicide bombings in the country. Such acts, the leaders say, are based on heretical teachings and interpretations of Islamic theology. “We will disseminate true Islamic teachings on jihad to our members,” Din Syamsuddin, president of Muhammadiyah, an Islamic organization, said in announcing the campaign. The initiative joins several groups with Indonesian government efforts to prevent a repeat of acts of violence, such as the November 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia which caused 202 deaths. The exact meaning of jihad is debated and contested — a commonly agreed definition is struggle. Some, however, argue the word has a meaning more suggestive of justice or duty. Syamsuddin is reported to have called for the withdrawal of books written by convicted terrorists in Indonesia for fear they could inspire further terrorism. (Presbyterian Record)

Brother Aloïs, the new leader of the ecumenical Taizé community, urged young people from across the world to make further strides for peace. Fifty thousand people had assembled in Milan, Italy, from 28 December 2005 to 1 January 2006 for Taizé’s annual New Year meeting. Br Aloïs warned against sectarianism and nationalism as bringers of false security. “On the contrary, we must turn towards others, open ourselves up, dare to hope,” he said. The delegates in Milan attended workshops on themes including solidarity with the poor; globalization and immigration; the meaning of the Eucharist for the first Christians; Christian-Islamic affinities, and hospitality in the Judæo-Christian tradition. Br Roger Schutz founded Taizé in 1940 and its core message of reconciliation struck a prophetic chord in the aftermath of the Second World War. (The Tablet)

The YWCA movement (Young Women’s Christian Association) celebrated the 150th anniversary of the beginning of its activities in London in 1855, where it offered safe lodgings to young women who were looking for employment during the industrial revolution. Since then, according to Monica Zetzsche who is the president of the World Alliance of the YWCA, this initiative has developed across the world and the movement has touched more than twenty-five million women and their families in 122 countries. (Translated from Présence Magazine)

A 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Fellowship of the Least Coin (FLC), a world-wide movement for prayer, peace, justice and reconciliation will take place in Malaysia in October 2006. On a visit to war-torn Asian countries in 1956, Shanti Solomon of India, was inspired to begin the fellowship. The FLC is neither a fund-raising body nor a donor agency. Yet the Least Coins gathered from all over the world amount to about US$350,000 annually. Funds are also used for education, literacy, health, addressing violence against women and children, leadership development, peace, justice, reconciliation projects, and women’s ecumenical gatherings. According to Esther Byu, Executive Secretary of the International Committee of the FLC, “the Least Coin teaches us to be humble, to value the least and to trust that nothing is impossible for God.” Shanti Solomon’s legacy and vision of the FLC continues to touch many people. (WICC News)

Ishmael Noko, Lutheran World Federation general secretary, said it’s important for Lutherans and Roman Catholics to prepare for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 together “so we are not commemorating that we became Lutherans, but we are commemorating that through the reformers the church was constantly renewed.” Following the Lutheran leader’s private audience with Pope Benedict XVI, Ecumenical staff of the LWF and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity met to consider details for concluding the fourth round of international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues and to plan for a fifth round which will probably end in time for the anniversary. “Our idea is that the [dialogue] commission would take up at the beginning of its mandate a deep, profound study of what the Reformation meant and what it has meant down the centuries and what it actually means today for both of us,” said Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Vatican Council. Noko said that a working group to coordinate events surrounding 2017 will explore what can be done to observe the anniversary ecumenically. (The Lutheran)

Seniors benefit from the ecumenical impulse too. Lutherans and Episcopalians built housing for low-income seniors at Tri-Cities Terrace East, Richland, Washington, USA. All Saints Episcopal, Richland Lutheran and members of the former Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church formed a coalition called Shalom Ecumenical Center. Together they developed donated land into a residence for sixty seniors. Working with many volunteers, as well as with federal and Episcopal grants, they have assured that the seniors will pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities for forty years to come. Next they plan to build housing for low-income, developmentally disabled adults. (The Lutheran)

Talks have resumed between the Vatican and the Anglican Communion after a year-long break sparked by the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshsire. In a communiqué released 12 December, the Anglican members of the consultation stated that tensions between the two churches “following developments in two of the Anglican provinces relation to ministry by and to persons of a homosexual orientation and practice” had led to a postponement of the 2004 meeting. The statement said that assurances by the Anglican Communion led to a resumption of talks; a fourth meeting of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission was held “to review work on the project to produce a common statement” that would “identify a sufficient degree of agreement in faith to enable the development of a deepened common life and mission” between the two churches. The commission also completed work on a summary of theological agreements reached between the two communities. The report has not been made public and is to be submitted to the Vatican and to London for review and publication. (Anglican Journal)

The third meeting of the Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches ended on 30 January in Etchmiadzin, Armenia. The three topics linked to the idea of ecclesial communion that were studied were: bishops in the apostolic succession, the relationship between primacy and synods/collegiality, and the functioning and ecclesiological importance of synods at the local and ecumenical level. Two expositions were presented on each of these topics, one Roman Catholic, the other Orthodox. Established in 2003, the commission met in Cairo, Egypt, in 2004, and in Rome in 2005. (

Ecumenical events planned for 2006 include a meeting of the Roman Catholic-Orthodox international commission in September after a hiatus of six years. Commission members plan to return to the theological discussion of church authority and primacy. The Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue is nearing completion of a document on “the apostolicity of the church.” The Roman Catholic-Methodist dialogue is scheduled to finish work by July on a statement about how far each community can go in recognizing the church of God present in each other. The World Methodist Council is scheduled to vote in July on formally adopting the 1999 Roman Catholic-Lutheran agreement on justification. The Roman Catholic Church and a group of Pentecostal churches continue working on a document explaining what both mean by “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and its role in the salvation of individual Christians. (Prairie Messenger)

Harmony, Hope and Healing is a creative music program for people served by various Catholic-run shelters and community outreach programs in the Chicago area. On a recent Sunday, the choir at Old St Patrick’s Church in Chicago underwent a transformation. Mixed in with its predominantly white, more affluent regulars were the “unmonied” members of Harmony, Hope and Healing. The church’s transformed choir sported an Irish tenor and an African-American mezzo-soprano; songs in high, medium and low register; blues and music of a more European flavour. Overall, the singers sounded comfortable together. (Western Catholic Reporter)

Methodist leaders said they will accept an invitation from Pope Benedict XVI to join a 1999 statement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics that put to rest centuries of disagreement on the nature of salvation. In the 1999 statement, both sides agreed that salvation is achieved through God’s grace, which is reflected in good works. The pope urged officials of the World Methodist Council during his first official meeting with them in December to endorse the 1999 accord, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, on how people achieve salvation. He called it “a significant step” toward Christian unity. The Methodist council president, Bishop Sunday Mban of Nigeria said he expects the joint declaration to be ratified when the World Methodist Council meets next summer for a worldwide conference in Seoul, South Korea. The council represents more than seventy Methodist Church bodies, including the 8.3 million-member United Methodist Church in the U.S. (The Lutheran)

In the 2006 Isaac Hecker Lecture, at St Paul’s College in Washington on 20 January, Orthodox theologian Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald indicated strong signs of a desire to renew the order of ordained women deacons in the Orthodox Churches. The Armenian Apostolic Church — one of the Oriental Orthodox churches — ordains women deacons and is considering ordaining married women to the diaconate, she said. Officially convened international Orthodox conferences have strongly favoured restoration of the diaconate for women and in 2004 the synod of the Church or Greece affirmed that its bishops could ordain deaconesses with the understanding that they are not to be raised to the rank of priesthood. FitzGerald said that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stated in a 1995 interview that “we can certainly revive the ancient tradition of calling women to minister as deacons” and added that some bishops had already re-established the practice. She noted that eighth-century ordination rites for deaconesses provide strong evidence that woman deacons were “viewed by the Eastern Church as being ordained to one of the ‘major orders’ of the church.” Also, Orthodox ecclesiology stresses that “only persons receiving the gift of ‘major orders’ were ordained during the eucharistic liturgy,” and the ordination rite for women deacons takes place during the eucharistic liturgy, just as it does for bishops, priests and male deacons. (Prairie Messenger)

The Joint Working Group of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches has published its 8th report, covering the period from 1999 to 2005. Among the texts appended there is, notably, a promising working document entitled Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of Common Baptism. This sets forth all that has already been achieved, indicating the growing convergence but also the remaining difficulties. The text illustrates the impact of recent ecumenical progress, giving examples of how common perspectives on baptism have led to improved relations. In a few cases, this evolution has even contributed to the establishment of full communion between Churches which had formerly been separated. Possible pastoral or practical procedures are outlined in part 6. (Translated from œcuménisme-Informations)

On the initiative of the Conference of European Churches, a theological dialogue between Orthodox Churches and the “Porvoo Churches” began in Jarvenpää, Finland in December 2005 with the participation of twenty-five theologians from the two groups. At the end, they hoped to set a further meeting to develop the dialogue opened on the three following points: a) the concept of Church in the “Porvoo Churches” and in the Orthodox Churches; b) ministry, apostolicity and mission; and c) the Holy Spirit: creation and growth inside and outside the Church. The Porvoo Agreement (1992) restored communion between the Anglican and Lutheran Churches of northern Europe and the Baltic region. (Translated from œcuménisme-Informations)

The Orthodox Church of Greece is studying the possibility of allowing priests to remarry, according to a communiqué published last 19 December on the official site of the Church of Greece []. This measure concerns only widowed priests. According to the information available, the members of a dogmatic and canonical commission are planning to propose that widowed priests with several children or unable to live alone should be authorized to marry a second time. Canon law currently in force in the Orthodox Church absolutely forbids the remarriage of priests. (Translated from SOP)

The Orthodox Metropolitan and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Syros, a Greek island in the south of the Aegean Sea, addressed a joint message New Years message to the faithful of their respective dioceses on 1st January. “We must join hands in a personal dialogue within a fraternal society, in order to erase the lines of separation and give the world a message of peace and Christian solidarity,” declared the two bishops, Metropolitan Dorotheos (Orthodox Church of Greece) and Mgr Francis Papamanolis (Roman Catholic Church). The island of Syros has about 21,000 inhabitants. Unique in Greece, the Roman Catholic community in Syros, which dates from the 17th century, represents 40% of the population, the remainder being Orthodox. The two communities live in harmony, notably because of a great many mixed marriages. (Translated from SOP)

The Anglican-Old Catholic Dialogue continues with a new committee mandated by the Archbishops of Canterbury and Utrecht. The first committee finished its five-year term last year. Development of common life and witness in order to have a more visible unity, celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Bonn Agreement (1931) between the two Churches, sharing news of the Churches, were the main subjects of the conversations. The Old Catholics separated from the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the First Vatican Council (1870), because they did not accept the dogma of papal infallibility. Their primate is traditionally the Archbishop of Utrecht (Netherlands). Their presence at episcopal consecrations is important for Anglicans, as it reinforces the continuity of apostolic succession. (Translated from œcuménisme-Informations)

The meeting of the Mixed Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, from 15 to 17 December 2005, marks a first stage in the resumption of the dialogue which was interrupted five years ago. The Mixed Committee especially had to prepare the forthcoming plenary meeting to be held sometime during 2006 in Serbia. The last meeting of the Joint International Commission was held at Baltimore (USA) in July 2000. The Group has existed since 1980. (Translated from SOP)

The Saint Irénée Orthodox-Catholic Working Group had its second meeting, from 9 to 13 November 2005, at the Penteli Monastery in Athens. Co-chaired by Dr Ignatije (Midié), Orthodox Bishop of Branicevo (Serbia) and Dr Gerhard Feige, Roman Catholic Bishop of Magdeburg (Germany), the group discussed common points and differences between Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecclesiologies. Comprising twelve Orthodox theologians and twelve Roman Catholic theologians from all over Europe, this working group held its first meeting in 2004, at Paderborn (Germany). (Translated from Unité chrétienne)

Édith du Tertre, co-founder of ACAT (Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture), died on 10 November 2005, at the age of 93. Shocked by the discovery of torture during a 1974 Amnesty International campaign, she decided with her friend Hélène Engle that Christians should at all costs “do something” about this scourge. When the two of them announced their plans to Pastor Charly Hedrich, he had the wisdom to advise them to form an interdenominational association rather than a solely Protestant group. This impetus has enabled ACAT, for the last thirty years, to bring a truly ecumenical experience to its thousands of members: discovering other Christian Churches through common prayers and actions in the service of these “poorest of the poor” who are persecuted prisoners. (Translated from Unité chrétienne)

The leaders of two worldwide Reformed Church groupings have proposed the creation of a new global body called the World Reformed Communion to unite the more than 80 million Protestants in their two organizations. The Revd Clifton Kirkpatrick, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Revd Douwe Visser, president of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) said in a joint statement that they believed “this new, united, Reformed body will be a blessing to the broader ecumenical movement and to the reconciliation of the world.” Geneva-based WARC has 75 million members in 218 churches in 107 countries, while the Grand Rapids, Michigan headquartered REC is in twenty-five countries with 12 million members belonging to forty churches. There are twenty-seven churches that belong to both groupings, which have been in bilateral talks since 1998. The unanimous recommendation to create the new body to succeed WARC and REC came out of a meeting in Grand Rapids, where representatives of the two groupings met for two days ending 1 February. The recommendation must be ratified by the governing bodies of WARC and REC. According to the proposal, all present members of the two organizations would become members of the World Reformed communion. The proposal also recommends that other churches who are not members but who share the same principles as the new organization should be invited to join. (Translated from Ecumenical News International)

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