The People Are Our Message
from: Neue Stadt, 4/2007, p. 4-6
Aldo Giordano, who leads the organization of the meeting from Catholic side, expects that the participants give valuable impulses for the Christians' efforts to unity.
NEUE STADT: Mr. Giordano, are we really in an ecumenical ice age?
Giordano: I cannot see an "ice age". But it is true, the relations between the Churches have considerably changed since the political turn of 1989. For suddenly the churches of the east can more freely give their views. That enriches ecumenism, because new topics become the focus of attention, for example tradition, spirituality or liturgy. But it makes the discussion also more difficult. For with West and East Europe two different culture areas meet with their respective historical background. They must learn to understand each other and so to free themselves from indifference and mutual distrust. Normally the Orthodox Churches are critical of the modern and secularized western world. That is why we must concern ourselves with the respective vis-à-vis's view on this secularization.
Besides, Christians of all denominations have become much better acquainted with each other. That's why gradually the actual problems come to the fore: the different interpretation of the Scripture, the understanding of office and apostolic succession, and particularly ethical questions concerning human life and family. The open discussion about them some people still find difficult, but this is nothing negative, because it calls for great humility in trying to approach the essentials of Christianity. For only then we can go ahead. On the other hand this becoming acquainted with each other leads to genuine friendships among members of different churches.
What brings you to this assassment?
Only one example: In February 2006 I took part in Brazilian Porto Alegre in the plenary assembly of the Ecumenical Council of the churches, the largest ecumenical network of the world. I was impressed how festive the atmosphere there was from the beginning. One was pleased to see each other again! I could make such observations time and again in the last years. The ecumenical friendship is growing throughout the world.
You are in charge of the organization of the third European Ecumenical Assembly (EEA). Can such meetings actually give new impulses for the Christians' search for unity?
We discussed for a long time whether we should after Basel in 1989 and Graz in 1997 make a third EEA. But then we became convinced that it can give important signals. By it we Christians can first show that we again and again look for the path of unity. Secondly we signal that we have Europe at heart. And thirdly we believe that Europe has a special vocation to ecumenism. Where else do Christians of all denominations come together as in Europe?
Are these not rather modest aims for such an extensive meeting? What will remain of it in the end?
The third EEA wants to make possible a way, a kind of ecumenical pilgrimage. That's also why it is no single large event but consists of four stages (see box). Of course, it is difficult to say what at the end will remain; there we must ultimately wait and see. But already the first stage in Rome was very important. For many of the 150 delegates this was the first meeting with the centre of the Catholic world and with the Pope. They have got an idea of what the papacy means for Catholics. Many prejudices against Rome have faded there. It was similar at the meeting with the Protestant world in Wittenberg.
150 delegates are not exactly many. Even the final event in Sibiu is to be a mere event of delegates. The first two EEA in Basel and Graz however were real popular events. Hence many criticize that this time the basis remained outside…
There we must remain realistic. A small city like Sibiu could not come to grips with a mass rally with 10.000 participants in the style of Graz. Within these limits we undertook everything, so that as broad a spectrum of Europe's Christians as possible can be represented. Thus we increased the number of the delegates and guests to 2500; so many were at no ecumenical meeting yet. They will represent not only dioceses, but also federations, movements, religious orders and universities.
Why then did one choose such a place for the final meeting?
After the Basel assembly in 1989 had taken place in Reformatory surroundings and the EEA of 1997 in the Catholic Graz, we wanted to hold it in a country moulded by the Orthodox Church. Also the new ecumenical situation is reflected in this choice: that is the growing stronger of the Orthodox Churches. It would be great, if that got us to take and understand their view on the social and church questions.
We chose Romania because the country has due to its history a bridging function between East and West Europe. Sibiu suggested itself because it is European Capital of Culture in 2007 and so happened to have prepared for guests.
Aren't you concerned that the EEM loses 'Bodenhaftung' (road grip), when the basis is absent?
I think we are to overcome this tiresome confrontation of basis and church leadership. We are only one people of faithful with different services. In Sibiu there will also be a considerable percentage of juvenile delegates.
I would not from the outset regard it as negative that the accent possibly lies on the responsible persons. When the churches are so constituted that in them the hierarchy, the bishops, and the ministers have a key role, then we must also set on them if we want advance something in ecumenism. That's why we want that at the third EEM just those people make an intensive ecumenical experience who then will be disseminators and who will infect their respective communities with this experience. In this sense we regard the delegates of Sibiu as the actual "message", which will go out from the third EEM, even if we will of course pass a written final document.
The organizers of the EEA - the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae (about CCEE, see box) - have the responsibility to give a special contribution to today's ecumenism. Nowadays there are numerous important ecumenical meetings, but CCEE and CEC have a peculiarity: They can form a platform that can include all nations of Europe and all Christian communities of the continent. That is the originality and chance of our assemblies.
That the basis remained entirely excluded is also not quite right. Just the second phase with the regional or national meetings was to particularly include the faithful.
Did that succeed?
We are very satisfied. In the whole of Europe more than 100 meetings on the topics of the EEA took place! Only one example: So last September in Bulgaria, which is truly no model in ecumenical affairs, representatives of the different churches, universities and government met and asked themselves the question which role Christianity plays in Europe's unification process. Shortly before in Serbia the Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Reformed Church had invited to a "Pilgrimage of the Churches", a kind of way of repentance, of prayer, dialogue and study, which included a great many people.
Something like that is only possible when it is backed by a multifarious ecumenical life - also at the basis. And this life is much richer than is generally assumed. It reaches from innumerable initiatives on parish level over established ecumenical organizations up to downright inter-denominational religious communities.
Beyond that we have invited to hold in each city of Europe synchronously with the Sibiu assembly ecumenical meetings.
Is there still the idea of "Ecumenism of the People", about which everybody was talking after the Graz assembly?
Yes. For a long time it has been general conviction that the search for the unity of the church is a matter of all Christians and not only the job of the church leaders. It's not by chance that one of our largest organizational problems is to explain to the many faithful who absolutely want to come to Sibiu, that the meeting there is a closed assembly of delegates.
Among the topics of the three EEAs appear no theological contentious issues. Doesn't one avoid the real problems there?
I observe that today Christians no longer feel like always talking insistently to each other and being occupied only with one another - also because of the difficulties arising from that. What they however want is to contribute together to the solution of the problems of the world.
And the EEAs simply have not got the mandate to negotiate about doctrinal questions. There are relevant institutions and procedures in the individual churches for that.
These meetings nevertheless make an important contribution to the theological dialogue. For often not the questions of doctrine slow down the dialogue but rather cultural, juridical or psychological obstacles that we have inherited from history. Our meetings make it possible for us to meet and to become acquainted with each other, to live together the gospel, to pray, to forgive each other, to ask how we can answer to the challenges of our time, and to look for ways of co-operation
This so-called "spiritual ecumenism" or "ecumenism of life" can free the relations between the churches from fears and reservations. For when denominations estimate each other and work with one another they fear no longer proselytism, i.e. the mutual luring away of the faithful, because they help each other to announce the gospel. And only who makes the experience that one does not lose one's identity in unity can really lead an uninhibited theological dialogue. Where the mutual love is lived, which Christ has brought to earth, also the theological dialogue will go ahead.
Thank you very much for this discussion.