How can all Christians face today's crises? With a single voice, leaders say

By Elise Harris

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Hands in prayer at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Jan. 17, 2015. Credit: Catholic Charities/Jeffrey Bruno (CC BY 2.0).

Inter-church leaders from around Europe have joined voices in calling for greater ecclesial communion in the face of modern challenges, such as increased secularization and global Christian persecution.

“Today the churches and ecclesial communities in Europe are facing new and decisive challenges, which they can only respond to effectively by speaking with a single voice,” the Pope said May 7.

He was speaking to delegates of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC), who are gathered in Rome May 6-8 for their annual Joint Committee.

In his speech to the delegates, the Pope referred to legislation which, “in the name of a principle of misinterpreted tolerance,” prevents citizens from “freely expressing and practicing” their personal beliefs.

He also gave note to the poor policies surrounding the “dramatic and often tragic” migration of thousands fleeing war, persecution and poverty, saying that it is “the duty” of European churches and ecclesial communities to work together in promoting a culture of solidarity and hospitality.

Although the path to full ecclesial communion and reconciliation is difficult, the Pope said that despite the hardships, it is “already an integral part of the process of reconciliation and communion” that the Lord is asking, so long as it is lived “in charity and in truth.”

The Joint Commission has been meeting since the 1970s, and has led to numerous initiatives geared toward promoting ecumenical communion, including the three Ecumenical Assemblies of Europe.

Basel, Switzerland marked the place of the first assembly in 1989. The second took place in 1997 in Graz, Austria, while the third and most recent was set in Sibiu, Romania in 2007.

Members of the CCEE include 33 Bishops' Conferences – all from the European continent – as well as the Archbishops of Luxembourg, of the Principality of Monaco, the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, the Bishop of Chişinău (Moldova), the Eparchial Bishop of Mukachevo and the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia.

With 39 total members, the CCEE is spread over a territory comprising 45 nations, while the CEC is composed of 120 churches and church bodies within Europe.

In his opening remarks before the Pope’s speech, Cardinal Peter Erdo, president of the CCEE, spoke of “the urgency of being together to witness to today’s world – and especially in a secularized Europe.”

Christians around the world currently find themselves in the midst of situations of persecution and discrimination, he observed, noting that this “sadly takes place in European countries, too.”

“It as if someone wants to shelve the Christian presence in society and ensure faith is absent from public life,” he said.

The cardinal also referred to the “ecumenism of blood,” calling it a clear sign of love for Christ that those who are persecuted give witness to, often at the cost of their lives. Their sacrifice, he said, shows that love triumphs over death.

“Those of us here present do not want to waste this blood which has been shed, but we want to welcome the gift of the lives of so many Christians, sure that this makes us more united to Jesus Christ and in Him between ourselves,” he said.

Anglican bishop Christopher Hill, president of the CEC, also addressed the commission. In his remarks, Bishop Hill noted that given recent attacks in Europe such as that carried out against Paris satire paper Charlie Hebdo by Muslim extremists, the themes of freedom and liberty are “a highly topical matter.”

Today Europe is still “in danger of fragmentation and conflict,” he said, and pointed to problematic themes such as such as migration and asylum, the ongoing conflict in the Ukraine, and an increasing economic disparity, which frequently generates injustice, as aggravators of instability.

“We pledge ourselves to continue to work closely together as Catholics in CCEE and as Anglicans, Orthodox and Protestants in CEC. Together we represent all the classical churches of the European continent,” he said.

Bishop Hill closed with a reference to Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, saying that by working together, the various churches and ecclesial communities of Europe share in the profound joy of the Gospel.

Ecumenism, he said, quoting a passage from the exhortation, “can be seen as a contribution to the unity of the human family – Division between Christians...adds further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace.”

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