WITNESSES OF JESUS, SERVANTS OF UNITY
100 years of Ecumenical Movement (1910-2010)
Your are witnesses of all those things
(Luke 24, 48)
Brothers and sisters following in the tracks of Jesus!
On January 22º annually, Western Christianity commemorates St Vincent, deacon (servant) of the church in Zaragossa and witness for Christ, martyred in Valencia in 304, during “the great tribulation” of Diocletian’s rule . Christian communities in the East soon began to venerate him and adopted St Just of Urgel’s 6º century appellation of him as “protector of the whole world”. This year also sees the centenary of the first “World Missionary Conference” which took place in Edinburgh in 1910 and marked the beginning of the ecumenical movement, directed towards the restoration of an undivided church.
On January 23º this year these two factors combined to bring people from various confessional backgrounds together in Valencia, first for an ecumenical pilgrimage that traced the sites associated with St Vincent, then for an inter-confessional service of evening prayer, in the Convent of the Capuchin Clares. Clergy and lay people from Roman Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Orthodox backgrounds took part in reading, prayer and song in Valencian, Castilian, English, Nambya, Latin, Greek and Romanian, to great spiritual joy. The service was led by Mr. Alexander Alapont from Valencia, missionary in Zimbabwe and translator into Nambya of the Bible and Roman Catholic Missal. The Revd Eduardo Delàs, Pastor of the 1st Baptist Church of Valencia preached and spoke in special memory of the Lutheran Pastor, Theologian and Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (d. 1945) “a witness of Jesus Christ amongst brothers”.
In furtherance of these events and as brothers and sisters, we who took part in them on inter-confessional basis offer you our joint testimony and reflection on the ecumenical movement, because “for our part we cannot give up speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4: 20 REB).
- First and foremost we wish to give thanks to God for the great gift of the ecumenical movement, which the Holy Spirit has generated to bring the now painfully divided Body of Christ to full and visible unity between the churches, emblematic of the unity and diversity of the whole human family.
- We look back gratefully to the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh where the protestant world opened a route to ecumenicity, with the eventual attachment of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches (the 1920 Patriarchal Encyclical of Constantinople and John XXIII’s creation of the Secretariat for unity between Christians in 1960, with Vatican II in view).
- The ecumenical initiatives and events of the last 100 years have been many, often fruitful and set in a variety of spheres and fields, complementary to rather than in competition with each other.
- a) Bible related ecumenism with inter-confessional translations of the Christian Scriptures and associated joint study, proclamation and reflection, in connection with which we are bound to acknowledge the unique contribution of the United Bible Societies.
- b) Spiritual ecumenism, coming to particular expression every year in the week of prayer for Christian Unity (founded in 1908) and to life in the regular practice of prayer for unity and the exchange of gifts between different Christian traditions that brings communities and individual believers together.
- c) Ecumenism that is secular or incarnate, moving Christians to joint social action, both critical and liberating, in the service in the Kingdom of God. This involves concern for justice, peace and the safeguarding of creation and implies amongst other things the struggle for human rights, action against poverty, equality and amity between men and women, the welcoming and integration of immigrants and minority groups and recognition in the public arena of a multi-faith society and the protection of linguistic and cultural diversity.
- d) Doctrinal ecumenism or theological dialogue, at official and informal levels is a staple ingredient of unity as “reconciled diversity” treasured by the people of God, who have a right to it; amongst many outstanding documents, we make special mention, more than 10 years on, of the Joint Declaration on Justification, signed in 1999, by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation and taken up subsequently by the World Methodist Council.
- e) Ecumenism that is institutional or inter-ecclesial with its exceptional moments of Grace, like the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 and at inter-continental level the holding of European Assemblies at Basilea in 1989, Graz in 1997, Sibiu in 2007 and the promulgation of the Ecumenical Letter in 2001, all historic milestones making meetings between the Continent’s Christians possible for the first time since the break with the East and the divisions of the 16th century.
- f) Grassroots ecumenism: we meet as brothers and sisters from various traditions to pray and work for the Unity of the church and for the Kingdom of God, in our own localities and Internationally, spiritually in the Ecumenical Centres of Valencia and Catalonia, Friendship between Jews and Christians, Christians Feminists, in the secular sphere in Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture.
- As pilgrims travelling towards the goal to which the Lord has called us, we see ourselves as fulfilling “the unity God wants, in his time and by his means” (Paul Couturier). After a century of ecumenical effort we have to recognise, with Isaiah, that our ways and plans have often not been the same as the Lord’s (Isaiah 55: 9) We can only echo Paul’s “How inscrutable his judgments, how unsearchable his ways” (Romans 11: 33, REB). At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we see ourselves included in his high-priestly prayer, “May they all be one… that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17: 21, REB).
- In such ways, beyond the times of standstill and the apparent reversals and in spite of our sin, ecumenism proves unstoppable. It acts, too, as a purifying, transforming force for the churches, who feel the need for renewal and conversion to the gospel.
- What Cardenal Mercier wrote still applies to believers at large: “to come together, people have to love one another, to love one another they have to know one another, to know one another they must meet, to meet they have to search each other out”. Therefore, we summon the members of our communities to go out and meet other brothers and sisters in Christ, joyfully and confidently, in prayer, mutual up building and shared testimony.
- Of our Church leaders we ask a fresh, especially emphatic drive to foster ecumenism. Whether the Christians population is aware of the factor or not, they are expecting much clearer speech and action. It is time in particular, decisively and fearlessly to establish channels or permanent structures of communion that include local levels, which make the unity we already posses visible and effective.
- In the global community that relates us all to one another, ecumenical dialogue and action are complemented by interfaith dialogue. In the first place, and in a special way with the Jewish people, our older brothers. With Muslims, too, likewise children of Abraham, our common father in faith. Also with men and women of good will, whom Jesus lovingly draws to resurrection and lasting life by his cross. (John 12: 32, REB).
Bible Day, 3º Sunday before Easter in the East and West
Obdulia Guillén, Josep Samarra (Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture CAAT-ACAT); María Teresa Soler (Friendship between Jews and Christians); Joan Botam (Catalanion Ecumenical Centre – CEC); Amparo Cervigón, August Monzon (Interconfessional Ecumenical Centre of Valencia – CEIV); María Salud Piera (Christians Feminists); Kate Davson, Sue Smith, Mª del Carmen Sarmiento (IEF – International Ecumenical Fellowship)
Messages from signatory organizations
2006 Letter to Christian communities
2007 Letter to Muslim Brothers and Sisters
2008 Pilgrims of Jesus in Europe
2009 Born of the word
2010 Witnesses of Jesus, servants of Unity