For the first time after 36 years, Poland was the host country of the annual ecumenical convention of the Bishop-friends of the Focolare Movement.
After Jerusalem, Istanbul, London, Augsburg and other “symbolic” cities of the ecumenical commitment, Katowice, capital of Slesia, an ancient city of almost 300,000 inhabitant, welcomed, from 15 to 18 November, 35 bishops of different Churches: Orthodox, Syriac-Orthodox, Evangelical-Lutherans, Anglican, Methodists and Catholics from Germany, Austria, England, Ireland, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Czech Republic, but also Brazil, Cyprus, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Thailand and the USA.
Along with around thirty lay people the bishops gathered in Katowice represented a cross section of various social and ecclesial communities, driven by the desire to make an experience of fraternal communion.
“Together we confess, together we go forth” was the title of the Convention, which was organized not only by the Focolare Movement, but also by the local Catholic Archdiocese and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Augustinian Confession, the Orthodox Church of Sosnowiec, the Faculty of Theology of the Slesia University and the city of Katowice itself, represented by mayor Marcin Krupa.
The convention opened with the reflection of Lesley Ellison, an Anglican, on “The Spirituality of unity: an ecumenical spirituality,” and had as its central theme “Mary, the Mother of Jesus,” with the theological studies in the various Catholic, Evangelic, Anglican and Orthodox perspectives. There were many encounters, celebrations and moments of prayer according to the various traditions, sealed by a “pact of mutual love” to live fraternal communion and to “love the Church of the other as one’s own
Brendan Leahly is the Catholic bishop of Limerick (Irelanda), expert and counselor of ecumenical dialogue in his country.
Interviewed on the phone, he said: “I want to underline the warm welcome received in Katowice, which I had already visited in 1991, on the occasion of Chiara Lubich’s encounter with the Focolare centers of Western and Eastern Europe. It is a highly developed city, which valorizes diversity and hospitality. Just as what we experienced in these days, the hospitality of the Faculty of Theology which hosted us, but also of the Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox Churches.”
The convention was the occasion to get to know one another better, and acquire a deeper knowledge of the different ecclesial and socio-cultural realities we live in, especially in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We realize that we cannot offer solutions for the problems of those countries (especially regarding the Middle East), but we can at least carry one another’s burdens. Feeling the suffering of others has enlarged my heart.
Now I no longer feel only like an Irish bishop, I carry within also the situations and problems of the other bishops. But with a new hope. In every country there are signs of hope, and the steps taken at ecumenical level go to prove this fact. For example in the Czech Republic a process of mutual forgiveness is underway for the errors committed.
Ecumenism – he continued– is a reality that started its path many years ago, and will meet ever new situations and give new testimonials. It is, after all, an experience of giving and receiving. What strikes me is the strong Catholic faith which is deeply rooted here in Poland, but also the openness to dialogue with the representatives of the other communities.”
Åke Bonnier, Lutheran bishop of the diocese of Skara, in Sweden, said he was happy about the convention:
«We were not bishops but brothers. What we shared in the convention was a reality, both during the breaks and intervals, and also during the celebrations. This was very important for me, it gave me new strength and enthusiasm.
I now look forward to next year, when, I hope all of them and also others can come to Sweden. If they ask me if this meeting was important as a path for the unity of Christians, my answer is yes.
Unity is not something that will come about only in the future, it is already a reality among us.”