European pan-church assembly seeks a fresh unity impetus

By Ecumenical News International
7 Sep 2007

Representatives of Europe's main churches say they hope a six-day ecumenical assembly in the Romanian city of Sibiu will give a new impetus to the movement for Christian unity - writes Stephen Brown for ENI.

"We don't do a tenth of what we could do together," the Rev Jean-Arnold de Clermont, a French Protestant who is president of the Conference of European Churches, told journalists on 4 September , the opening day of the Third European Ecumenical Assembly.

"We don't pray sufficiently together. We don't read the Bible sufficiently together. We don't act sufficiently together," de Clermont said. He added that he was looking to the gathering to focus on some of the main issues facing Europe, such as migration. De Clermont said it was intolerable "that in the majority of European countries immigrants are treated as criminals".

CEC is organizing the 4-9 September 2007 event with the Council of European (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conferences (CCEE). The two groupings account for almost all of Europe's Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox churches.

The general secretary of CEC, Archdeacon Colin Williams an Anglican from Britain, said he hoped the assembly would give "a new confidence" to Christians of different traditions. "We need to have a new confidence in our role in Europe at the beginning of the 21st century," said Williams.

Italian priest, the Rev Aldo Giordano, general secretary of CCEE, described how Europe had changed since the first European Ecumenical Assembly was held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1989.

"Then Europe was divided," Giordano said. "In 1997 we met at a second assembly in Graz [Austria] and it looked as though we had a new Europe of freedom, but then only a few years later other questions emerged, such as the environment, terrorism, and bioethics."

The Sibiu meeting, however, comes at a sensitive time after a recent Vatican document dismayed many Protestant leaders with its statement that their denominations are not churches "in the proper sense".

Giordano insisted there was no connection between the Vatican document and the Sibiu assembly. But he hoped it would help the movement for church unity to make progress by focussing attention on matters that required deeper discussion.

"It is no longer the time for a superficial ecumenism," Giordano said at the media conference. "We are stuck if we remain at the level of superficialities."

CEC president de Clermont warned against giving too much weight to the Vatican statement. "We have to remind our folks that ecumenical life is not something that comes from the summit but will always come from the grassroots," he said. If Christians at a local level respond by redoubling their involvement in local ecumenism, "then Rome will have the answer".

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