On the opening day of an ecumenical conference in Assisi, the Umbrian hill town known as the home of Saint Francis, speakers discussed the need to increase interaction between faiths and cultures in order to nurture worldwide harmony - writes Eric J. Lyman.
Assisi 2012: Where We Dwell in Common/Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century, running from 17-20 April 2012, drew some 230 theologians and clergy from 54 nations. "The overall aim is to discern new ways, means and methods of advancing the ecumenical cause in the wake of the 'ecumenical winter' and with renewed energy for a new century," according to the event website.
Sandra Mazzolini, holder of the Church and Mission chair in the faculty of missiology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, said the concept of "borders" showed those areas can be a place for cultural exchanges.
"What happens when different people cross borders and encounter new cultural and religious worlds?" asked Mazzolini. "The people who inhabit borders know that such exchanges and mixing are the result of the ongoing and often difficult process of integration. They require time and reciprocal effort."
Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of the diocese of Assisi said attendees would have to call upon all their skills in order to promote harmony between faiths.
"Yours is not an easy task," said Sorrentino, a former speechwriter for the Vatican's secretariat of state.
The agenda for the final days of the talks included reflections on the ecumenical spirit of Assisi and different religious traditions; the role of tribalism in the context of recent history; and ecumenism and missions. The talks will close with a plenary session on the dialogue of the future, which will follow a work group discussion centered on African women theologians.
In a statement, organisers said they hoped the event would be "truly transformative of the perspectives, methods, and approaches" toward increasing dialogue between participants and the organisations they represent.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]