By Stephen Brown
Geneva, 20 January (ENI)--Pope Benedict XVI is to join delegates
from other Christian traditions who will gather in Rome from 24
to 27 January for the opening event of the 3rd European
Ecumenical Assembly which organizers hope will promote the cause
of church unity.
The meeting is intended to "help European churches make their
common voice heard on the challenges of our time," said a keynote
speaker at the Rome meeting, Lutheran Bishop Margot Kaessmann
from Hanover in northern Germany.
The gathering is organized by the Council of European (Roman
Catholic) Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) and the Conference of
European Churches (CEC). The two church groupings between them
account for almost all of Europe's Anglican, Orthodox,
Protestant, and Roman Catholic churches.
It is the first step in what has been called an "ecumenical
pilgrimage" that will be followed by national meetings and a
gathering in early 2007 in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin
Luther launched the Protestant Reformation in 1517.
It will culminate in the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly in
Sibiu, Romania, which will bring together 3000 delegates from all
Christian traditions, and follows previous assemblies in Basel,
Switzerland, in 1989, and Graz, Austria, in 1997.
The Rome meeting opens on 24 January with speeches by the
presidents of CEC, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont from France,
and of CCEE, Bishop Amedee Grab from Switzerland.
The meeting will then focus on prospects for church unity in
Europe with addresses by Bishop Kaessmann, representing the
Evangelical Church in Germany, the country's main Protestant
umbrella, and by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
On 25 January, delegates will attend a service at the Basilica of
St Paul's Outside the Walls at which Pope Benedict will preside.
He is also scheduled to receive the participants at an audience
in the Vatican.
Pope Benedict after his election in 2005 said his "primary task"
would be to promote the unity of all Christians. And on 18
January to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity he praised
progress in dialogue between churches.
"We can also give thanks to the Lord for the new situation
painstakingly created through ecumenical relations among
Christians in their newfound brotherhood," he said.
Still, churches remain divided over issues such as celebrating
together the Eucharist or Holy Communion, the sacrament that
commemorates Jesus' last supper with his disciples.
Christian Weisner, chair of the international movement "We Are
Church" which campaigns for reforms inside the Catholic Church
said his movement hoped the Rome gathering would promote genuine
dialogue between delegates.
"We also deeply hope that the Rome meeting will result in a real
debate that focuses upon the relations between the churches, not
only at the top, but at the grassroots. We hope they will
recognise the very real difficulty caused by withholding
Eucharistic hospitality, thus wounding the whole Christian
family," said Weisner. "It would be a real shame if the Rome
meeting dries up with the usual threadbare platitudes." [508
[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]