“Important steps of reconciliation between divided Churches, becoming testimonies of reconciliation in a world” in need of people capable of tearing down barriers, of building bridges of peace, thereby “ushering in new ways of living inspired by Jesus Christ, who reconciled us with God.” This is the goal of the Christian Churches in Italy ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – January 18-25, that draws its inspiration from the Biblical passage: “God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ”, drawn from Chapter 5 of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. The theme ushers in various avenues for common work and joint commitments.
In their message, the leaders of the Christian Churches in Italy highlight “the welcome offered to the many refugees arriving from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other Countries”, described as a concrete token of the “ministry of reconciliation; as is the contribution offered by Pope Francis and by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in support of all those forced to live in the “existential peripheries of society as a result of injustice and violence.” Especially praiseworthy is the ecumenical project for “humanitarian corridors.” The project launched in 2016 thanks to the efforts of the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in Italy, the Community of Sant’Egidio and of the Waldensian Church, will enable one thousand-asylum-seekers selected as the most vulnerable to arrive in Italy in full security by the end of 2017.
“Indeed, in recent years this annual event had seemed to have lost some of its appeal, viewed as a ritual occasion that we grew accustomed to. But this year the Week is viewed with great anticipation, because there is something new that is developing at ecumenical level.”
Pastor Luca Negro, President of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, envisions a positive outcome regarding the participation of Italy’s Christian faithful in the Week. The Pastor recalled that 2017 is the year marking the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation, underlining “the significance and the scope of the joint commemoration of an event that constituted a problem for centuries. Moreover – he added – the tone given to the Week is of a penitential nature, in recognition of the past divisions, and of appreciation for the positive elements ushered in by the Protestant Reformation.”
November 16-18 the Italian Bishops’ Conference – CEI – held a conference on the Reformation in conjunction with the Federation of Evangelical Churches.
“We experienced a new ecumenical atmosphere – said Pastor Negro – marked by the yearning to further ecumenism and, rather than being content with a minimum effort, to do something concrete together.” He added: “As Evangelicals we have the feeling that with this new pontificate ecumenism will return to play an overarching role. If in the past years we have occasionally felt as counting for slightly more than nothing at ecumenical level, this feeling is withering, replaced by the special attention towards the ecumenical realm expressed by the Pope.
Our hope is that also Italy will spur the establishment of a permanent body for ecumenical consultations with the participation of representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches. We hope this project will become a reality.”
Like every year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is preceded by the XXVIII Day for the furthering and development of dialogue between Catholics and Jews, held January 17. After ten years devoted to the joint reflection of Catholics and Jews on the Ten Words, this year will usher in a new stage of the dialogue process. As a topic of study for the next few years, it was decided to devote our reflections on the five Meghillot (rolls). This year it will begin with the Book of Ruth and will continue with the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther.
Monsignor Ambrogio Spreafico, President of the CEI Commission for Ecumenism and Dialogue, explained the importance of the dialogue: “We live in a world where particularisms, at the level of peoples, groups, individuals, are affecting our societies through dynamics that oppose the quest for unity and solidarity. An example of this are the difficulties preventing the achievement of European unity, the ethnic and religious divisions within Europe itself, the increasing distance between the North and the South of the world.”
Jews and Catholics are thus called to show to today’s Europe that “particularism, a necessary condition for universality, is not a factor of conflict” and that “specific vocation, which does not exclude – but rather views the other as the expression of the image of God – embodies the strength of universalism and unity.”
Keeping alive the “Memory of Evil” is equally important in helping us “not to forget, and to act with all means to uproot all forms of prejudice against Jews and against all minorities from Western culture”, concluded bishop Spreafico.