Fr. Frans Bouwen: what development marked the ecumenical dialogue in 2015?
Bethlehem – On Sunday January 17, 2016, a lecture on the Ecumenical reality was given at the Monastery of the Emmanuel. Fr Frans Bouwen,W.F., specialist of Oriental Churches and dialogue with Christian Churches of the Orient, presented the evolution of the Ecumenical dialogue for year 2015.
As is the case each year since 1972, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place in Jerusalem a week after the rest of the world in order to allow Armenian Christians to celebrate Christmas, is preceded in the Holy Land by a lecture given by Fr. Frans Bouwen, White Father, on the ecumenical reality of the previous year. He presented a general assessment of the ecumenical dialogue while focusing on three basic points: a global overview on ecumenism throughout the world, followed by a presentation of the ecumenical situation in the Middle East, then in Jerusalem.
Fr. Bouwen mentioned some major events during year 2015 such as the 50th anniversary of lifting of anathemas or the publication of the Encyclical “Laudato Si” of Pope Francis who for the first time mentions in such a document the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, himself very involved in the safeguard of creation. The publication of this text had had a very positive impact on dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The goal of Pope Francis was to give public responses for the safeguard of our planet to be more efficient. On this point the Pope declared that the day of prayer for the safeguard of the creation will take place on the same day of September for Orthodox and Catholics, following a date initiated by the Orthodox Churches: “In unity of prayer with our Orthodox brothers and with all good-willed people we seek to share in finding a solution to the ecological crisis which wrings humanity at present” (Statement of Pope Francis on the occasion of his 100th general audience).
On-going dialogue in the Middle East
On the other hand, Fr. Bouwen referred to the process of a growing dialogue in the Middle East, through more regular exchange of letters between Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria Tawadros II for major religious feast days, or through an appeal for the unification of Easter by the Coptic Patriarch. As a matter of fact he proposes one same date for all Christians (the 3rd Sunday of April according to a statement by the Coptic Pope of Alexandria), complying with a request by the faithful of North Africa and the Middle East. The proposal is now under study.
The centenary of the Armenian genocide was one of the major events of 2015, both in Rome and in Jerusalem. Pope Francis mentioned the Armenian genocide back in April, during a mass celebrated for Christians of Armenian rite and in presence of representatives of Armenia’s Churches. The Pope on this occasion sent a message to Armenians, calling for pardon: “May God grant that the way to reconciliation be resumed between the Armenian and Turkish peoples … “ (full text on Radio Vatican). The centenary was observed in Jerusalem through a celebration at the Holy Sepulchre in presence of representatives of Churches of Jerusalem on April 24, 2015.
More and more initiatives by faithful
Fr. Bouwen talked about the fact that the faithful tend more and more frequently to pray together, to carry out pilgrimages or to develop more exchanges between different monasteries. Ideas confirmed by Mgr Shomali, who attended the lecture, and who reminded that “the lay faithful take more and more initiatives among them. Progress in rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox is more and more obvious among the faithful. A sign that progress does not always come from the side of the clergy”, mentioning common initiatives between the different Christian schools.