Germany's senior Protestant leader has praised the role European churches played in the 1989 political changes that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall but says they need to find new ways of making their voice heard in today's Europe.
"We can now together declare our faith and carry out our task of reconciliation, and testify to the peace of Christ that is given to us," said Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). He was speaking on 17 July 2009 to the once-every-six-years assembly of the Conference of European Churches taking place in Lyon, France.
"The Iron Curtain was torn down, the Wall demolished, the division of our continent ended," said Huber, the Protestant bishop in Berlin, where a 154 kilometre (96 mile) fortified concrete wall divided the city's western and eastern sectors from 1961 to 1989.
CEC, which now has 120 member churches - principally Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox - was founded in 1959 during the Cold War.
"The time when CEC came into being fifty years ago was a time marked by heightened tension between East and West," said Huber. "The Cold War was an occasion when CEC prayed across frontiers."
Huber saluted the role of Protestant churches in eastern Germany, the Roman Catholic Church in Poland and Orthodox churches in other parts of Europe for the role they played in the changes of 1989.
"The churches had the chance to bring their commitment to peace, justice and the integrity of creation, their commitment to democratic processes, their commitment to the inalienable dignity of human beings into these processes," he told a media conference. "They did it in a peaceful way, they followed the line of non-violence, and they were successful in that message."
"For this purpose it was essential that churches had a continuous exchange, fellowship and cooperation between East and West, and that was the extraordinary role of the Conference of European Churches," said Huber.
The Berlin bishop highlighted the role of the first European Ecumenical Assembly in May 1989 in Basel, which CEC organized with the Council of European (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), and which gathered Christians from all parts of Europe.
"The event itself reflected what became reality in the following months," said Huber. Still, Europe had changed fundamentally in the 20 years since the "peaceful changes" of 1989, Huber noted in his assembly address.
He added that against the background of the diversity of present-day Europe, churches needed to present, "a model of reconciled diversity". At the same time, "CEC also has the task to speak with the united voice of the churches to the situation in Europe. Today, we need to make clear that the contribution of the Christian faith to European society is indispensable."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]