“Ecumenism in the Holy Land,” interview with Fr. Bouwen
JERUSALEM – On the vigil of the Week of Prayer for Christian unity, Fr. Frans Bouwen, a White Father, specialist on Eastern Churches and dialogue with the Christian Churches of the East shares his vision of ecumenism in the Holy Land.
1. Can you give an account of ecumenism in the Holy Land?
Ecumenism is a living reality that knows its ups and downs as with all living persons or organizations. It is therefore very difficult to make a “report” or an “account”. We must be grateful to see that the relations between the Churches of Jerusalem are currently characterized by brotherhood and spontaneity. This is true at both the level of the Patriarchs and Bishops, and at the level of the faithful. Various initiatives undertaken jointly by priests or pastors or lay people, prove that ecumenism has good roots at the base. This is very important given the many changes that are going on in the Middle East. Our Christians are well aware that only together can they work effectively for their future in this region and it is very encouraging to see that these efforts are strongly supported by numerous priests and bishops. The fact remains that many of us continue to desire and hope for greater ecumenical collaboration in the pastoral area, being aware of the serious obstacles still present on this road.
2. Are the decisions of the Synod on the Middle East (October 2010) concerning the ecumenical dialogue beginning to be implemented?
Early last December, a large gathering of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East was held in Beirut to study and promote the implementation of the broad guidelines of the Special Synod for the Middle East, in the light of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” that Pope Benedict XVI gave to the churches of this region during his visit to Lebanon in September. Here in Jerusalem, we had little information on the specific decisions that were taken. In fact, in addition to decisions at the level of the entire Middle East, there must be a local application in each country due to the differences, sometimes great, in the situations of countries. In the meantime all, bishops, priests, religious and laity are invited to deepen the spiritual ecumenism that the Pope strongly emphasized in this exhortation. It would be very useful that all meditate paragraph 12: “”On the basis of the indications set forth in the Ecumenical Directory, the Catholic faithful can promote spiritual ecumenism in parishes, monasteries and convents, in schools and universities, and in seminaries. Pastors should ensure that the faithful come to see themselves as witnesses of communion in all areas of their lives. Communion in this sense is certainly not confusion. Authentic witness calls for acknowledgment and respect for others, a willingness to dialogue in truth, patience as an expression of love, the simplicity and humility proper to those who realize that they are sinners in the sight of God and their neighbour, a capacity for forgiveness, reconciliation and purification of memory, at both the personal and communal levels.
3. The Christians of the Holy Land are preparing to celebrate Easter on the same day, referring to the Julian calendar. Is this a first step that recalls other concrete ways?
For many years, the Christians of the Holy Land insistently request the unification of the dates of Easter. They are above all the mixed families, Catholic and Orthodox in particular, that actually bear the practical consequences of the difference between the Eastern and Western dates that can be up to five weeks, as this year. Not being able to celebrate Easter together is also a counter-witness in the eyes of non-Christian majority. Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran parishes in the Ramallah region in fact already celebrate the Easter date of the East for fifteen years. Therefore, we must rejoice to see that the Catholic hierarchy has decided to respond favorably to the expectations of the faithful and to coordinate initiatives. It ‘s too early to assess the impact of this ecumenical decision, especially because the Greek orthodox hierarchy shows much reticence on this point. We pray and hope that this year’s experience is the best possible so that better ecumenical coordination become feasible in the near future.
Interview by Christophe Lafontaine
For the program of the week of prayer for Christian unity click here