Ecumenism Seminar in Venice

The commission “Service for Dialogue” of the Order has completed its final animation activity of the sessenium, this last February 16 to 21, with a seminar on ecumenical dialogue at the Institute for Ecumenical Studies (ISE), adjacent to San Francesco della Vigna Friary in Venice. The theme chosen for this fifth seminar of the sessenium was: “Ecumenism in view of inter-religious dialogue.” Members of the Commission and occasionally even some of ISE the students and teachers attended the event. Representatives of the Service for Dialogue of the Italian Conference and the Theological Institute of Verona were also invited. We were pleased to have the presence of a brother of the Sacred Convent of Assisi, Friar Silvestro Bejan OFM Conv. We were fraternally welcomed by the local community, by Friar Stefano Cavalli OFM, Dean of ISE, which is a part of the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical University Antonianum (Rome) and the Minister Provincial of the Venetian Province, Friar Antonio Swapping OFM.

The chosen theme was meant to emphasize the need for dialogue among Christians so that our dialogue with other religions and other cultures may have more credibility. For us, it is not possible to have interreligious dialogue if there is no dialogue between Christians! With different reports and reflections during the seminar, we deepened our understanding of the diversity and richness of the Eastern Churches and those coming from Martin Luther’s Reformation.

We, the brothers of the Commission, began with a sharing of our experiences in the field of dialogue according to our backgrounds and personal involvement. Then, one of the speakers, Ricardo Burigana, ISE, presented us with a perspective of the presence of the different Churches and the ecumenical reality of Italy. A monk of the ecumenical community of Bose (Piedmont) offered us his personal testimony and presented us with the lifestyle, spirituality, the activities of his community, which is made up of monks from different Christian denominations. In the evening, he animated Vespers in the ecumenical style of Bose.

The next day, Friar Russel Murray OFM, a member of our committee and also a student at ISE, presented a history of ecumenism in the Protestant churches in the United States. Then, a group of students of the Institute shared their testimony about how they live real dialogue between the Churches in their reality. We were also enriched by the reports of Friar Roberto Giraldo OFM and Prof. Burigana regarding the reality of the Eastern and Protestant Churches and on the possibilities of ecumenical dialogue toward Christian unity. Also Rev. John Asimakis, a professor of the Catholic Church of Greece presented us the reality of the relationship between the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek Catholics. The three speakers helped us better understand the journey made so far in the research of daily ecumenical dialogue, the great wealth found in this diversity and the many challenges and difficulties (that are part of) the continued (journey) toward Christian unity. Friar Ruben Tierrablanca OFM, of the Community of Istanbul, spoke on the theme “Ecumenical Dialogue and Interreligious Dialogue in Comparison” revealing the need to make a continuous correlation between these two dimensions, without neglecting the fundamental importance of the cultural dimension.

In addition to the animation of the monk of Bose, of our prayer of vespers, on two other occasions Friar Pascal Robert OFM of Pakistan and Friar Silvester Shim OFM, of Korea, helped us pray with the enrichment of the spirituality of Islam and Buddhism, respectively. We experienced the opportunity to allow ourselves to be introduced to the mystery of God through the faith of non-Christians.

The decrees of the Vatican II, “Nostra Aetate” (on non-Christian religions) and “Unitatis redintegratio” (on ‘ecumenism) have been a light in our path and demonstrate their timeliness more than ever: “All peoples in fact form one community “(Nostra Aetate, 1). And again: “We cannot call upon God, Father of all people, if we refuse to lead ourselves fraternally towards some of the people created in the image of God. The relationship of humankind to God the Father and people’s relationship to their human brothers and sisters are so conjoined that the Scripture claims: “Whoever does not love does not know God” 1 John 4: 8 (NA 5).

The harsh reality of today’s world does not help us to reflect calmly on dialogue, especially on interreligious dialogue. Unfortunately, the attacks against “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris on January 7, 2015 and in Copenhagen (Denmark), on February 14, the war in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, and (various other) acts of terrorism seem to contradict every effort (made) in favor of dialogue. For us, Friars Minor, the challenge is huge … Some of our brothers are in the heart of the conflict (Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Ukraine …). In this year of the consecrated life, what is meant to be our task in the evangelical and Franciscan respond to the challenges of our world? “We, as sons of Saint Francis, true to the “spirit of Assisi,” have the mission of being “instruments of peace,” humble servants of the Good News, discoverers of the many gifts of God everywhere in the world and among all people” (“The dialogue of believers,” vol. III, p.17).

Pope Francis, in his exhortation “Evangelii gaudium” made an important reference to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Current events demonstrate the need and the urgency of such a dialogue: The Pope claims “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, […] These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth” (EG 250 ). As instruments of peace and witnesses of hope, we are convinced we (need to) continue our efforts where we live, praying fervently with the words of St. Francis: “As we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12b): and what we do not fully forgive, you Lord help us to fully forgive, so that, for your sake, we sincerely love our enemies and devoutly intercede for them with you, not rendering to anyone evil for evil and striving in you to be beneficial in everything” (Commentary on the “Our Father”).