Changing Islamic-Christian stories

Focolare Movement Changing Islamic-Christian recounts

 

Trento, 7 December 2018. The Week of Unity, the last step of the prophetic project: Wings of Unity, which was organized by the Focolare Movement: Sophia University Institute (IUS) and the Center for Interreligious Dialogue, in concordance with the Risalat International Institute of Qum (Iran) has ended. The date, place and research group set-up are not casual. In Fact, the date marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Chiara Lubich‘s choice to dedicate her life to God, leaving everything to follow him.
The protagonists, majority youth, are composed of about fifty people, Shiite Muslims and Catholics, coming from various countries: Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, United Arab Emirates, USA, England, Canada, Argentina, and Italy.

This initiative took shape about less than three years ago, marking the twenty-year long path of friendship between Prof. Mohammad Shomali, his wife Mahnaz, and the Focolare Movement. From this friendship, both intellectual and personal, Prof. Shomali of the Risalat International Institute of Qum and Prof. Piero Coda of IUS, had the idea of leading a small group of Muslim and Christian academics from both institutes, to reflect on a crucial theme: unity of God and unity in God. This brought about the understanding of the Islamic sensibility of absolute monotheism that opens up to the Christian perspective of God as dialogue. There were many voices of reflections, which bring different thoughts and traditions that demonstrate and not impose the Truth, but walk together towards it.

The lectures touched on key points like the world’s globalized culture and the fundamental truths proposed by the two faiths, but above all, it made an experience of hearts and minds leading to a real Shekinah, which is the presence of God’s peace among the faithful.

This experience did not limit itself to the sole participants, but expanded in two precious moments of sharing. The first was in the International Centre in Incisa Val d’Arno (Loppiano), while the second was in the Mariapolis Chiara Lubich Center in Cadine (Trento). Those from Loppiano and Trento did not only listen to an experience that seems to dramatically contradict the current accounts regarding the relations between Christians and Muslims, which speak of fear, rejection, and invasion. They were able to make a profound experience of mutual enrichment, in a climate of peace that makes living and building, what Pope Francis calls, a ‘culture of encounter’ possible.

Roberto Catalano

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Maria Voce announces the centenary of Chiara Lubich’s birth (1920-2020)

Focolare Movement Maria Voce announces the centenary of Chiara Lubich’s birth (1920-2020)

 

“We are getting closer to the year 2020 when we will celebrate the centenary of Chiara Lubich’s birth”, Maria Voce wrote. “This anniversary will of course be a unique opportunity; first of all to thank God for the gift that Chiara was for us and for many people across the world. In fact, all of us were won over by the charism God gave to her and that changed or is changing our lives in a deep way. It will be a favourable time in which many other people will be able to meet Chiara who is living today in her Work”. The President ended her letter saying, “From now on, let’s ask for the abundance of the Holy Spirit, for us and all that we want to achieve, but above all for all the people who will have the chance to get to know Chiara and her charism.”

In the coming months, the Focolare communities around the world will be planning ways of celebrating this anniversary.

A commission has been set up at the international centre of the Focolare Movement, which can be contacted (centenario.chiara (at) focolare.org) to share plans, ask for advice or receive information.

Our website, too, will dedicate an area to Chiara’s centenary, where the various activities being held around the world during the anniversary year will be made known.

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Belgium: it’s the time of the “we”

This was what Maria Voce, President of the Focolare Movement, and Jesús Moràn, its Co-President, have expressed during their meeting in Brussels. An appointment that convened Christians and Muslims in the said country, who for years have been trying to live fraternity in diversity, as well as the respect for each one’s cultural and religious identity. Present were about 50 persons, half of whom were Muslims and the other half Christians, but all actors of dialogue. It has begun with festive greetings over a cup of Moroccan tea, creating a family atmosphere. “We experienced profound unity—said Jesús Moràn—because God is so great and is present everywhere in our life.”
The story of Islam in Belgian land started fifty five years ago with the arrival of immigrants from Morocco and Turkey, followed later by those from other countries. Today, it is enriched by the new generations born in Belgium. After the Brussels attack on March 2016, dialogue with Muslims has become a political priority. There is a new awareness about the problems related to integration, or rather, of the non-integration of a minority of Muslims. Oftentimes, the accent is placed on diversity, on the “we” and the “you” that is fostered by the fundamentalist current. In the said country are living a minority of believing and practicing Muslims, who manifest their identity even in public spaces, and a majority of citizens who refuse their Christian heritage, most of whom are agnostics or are indifferent to the faith. This materialistic and strongly secular society often confuse fundamentalism with the essence and beauty of Islam.
The friendship between the Focolare and the Muslims in Belgium started years ago when a focolarina came to teach in a predominantly Islamic district. A profound rapport was born with many of the inhabitants. Bit by bit, some of them wanted to know the inspiration behind this generous teacher’s life. Thus, a nucleus of persons desiring to walk along with the Focolare was born, and they also participated in the international meetings of interreligious character. The dialogue that begun is, and remains to be, a “dialogue of life”, weaving a network of fraternity that is lived, renewed, and appreciated, especially in this difficult time of widespread fear.
Chris Hoffmann

The Focolare contributes in the complex path of integration and dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Belgium, a land that was also wounded in the 2016 terrorist attacks.
“The time of the ‘we’ has arrived”, “we are a community, a ‘prophetic minority’”. This was what Maria Voce, President of the Focolare Movement, and Jesús Moràn, its Co-President, have expressed during their meeting in Brussels. An appointment that convened Christians and Muslims in the said country, who for years have been trying to live fraternity in diversity, as well as the respect for each one’s cultural and religious identity. Present were about 50 persons, half of whom were Muslims and the other half Christians, but all actors of dialogue. It has begun with festive greetings over a cup of Moroccan tea, creating a family atmosphere. “We experienced profound unity—said Jesús Moràn—because God is so great and is present everywhere in our life.”
The story of Islam in Belgian land started fifty five years ago with the arrival of immigrants from Morocco and Turkey, followed later by those from other countries. Today, it is enriched by the new generations born in Belgium. After the Brussels attack on March 2016, dialogue with Muslims has become a political priority. There is a new awareness about the problems related to integration, or rather, of the non-integration of a minority of Muslims. Oftentimes, the accent is placed on diversity, on the “we” and the “you” that is fostered by the fundamentalist current. In the said country are living a minority of believing and practicing Muslims, who manifest their identity even in public spaces, and a majority of citizens who refuse their Christian heritage, most of whom are agnostics or are indifferent to the faith. This materialistic and strongly secular society often confuse fundamentalism with the essence and beauty of Islam.
The friendship between the Focolare and the Muslims in Belgium started years ago when a focolarina came to teach in a predominantly Islamic district. A profound rapport was born with many of the inhabitants. Bit by bit, some of them wanted to know the inspiration behind this generous teacher’s life. Thus, a nucleus of persons desiring to walk along with the Focolare was born, and they also participated in the international meetings of interreligious character. The dialogue that begun is, and remains to be, a “dialogue of life”, weaving a network of fraternity that is lived, renewed, and appreciated, especially in this difficult time of widespread fear.
Chris Hoffmann

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December Word of Life

Word of Life

for ages 4-8 | for ages 9-17 | Print | Audio


St Paul wrote to the community in the city of Philippi at a time when he was being persecuted and in serious difficulties. Yet he advised these dear friends of his, in fact he almost commanded them, to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

Is it right to command this kind of thing? Looking at the world around us, there are not that many reasons for feeling good about life, never mind joyful!

With all the worries we have, the social injustice and strained relationships between nations, it’s already hard work to avoid being overwhelmed and discouraged, and therefore just living for ourselves.

Nonetheless, we hear Paul’s invitation to:

Rejoice in the Lord always.

What was his secret? Chiara Lubich wrote “There is a reason why, despite all our difficulties, we should always be joyful. If we take Christian life seriously, it gives us joy. Through Christian life, Jesus is alive in us and when we are with him we cannot fail to be joyful. He is the source of true joy, because he gives meaning to our life and guides us with his light. He frees us from fear, whether we are concerned about the past or about something yet to come. He gives us the strength to overcome all the difficulties, temptations and trials that we might encounter.

Christian joy is not simple optimism, nor is it the security given by material wellbeing. It isn’t the cheeriness of those who are young and healthy. Instead it is the fruit of a personal meeting with God in the depths of our hearts.

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Paul went on to say that this joy enables us to welcome others in a kindly way and be ready to use our time for others.[1]

Moreover, on another occasion, Paul referred explicitly to Jesus’ saying, “There is more joy in giving than in receiving.”[2]

Being in Jesus’ company gives us an interior peace that has a “disarming” power and can often have a positive impact on the people around us.

Not long ago, despite the dangers and challenges of the war, a large group of Syrian young people met together to share their experiences of living the Gospel and experiencing the joy of mutual love. They went home again determined to witness that it is possible to live as one family.

We were sent this feedback by one of the people there:

“We heard so many stories about great suffering and pain but also about great hope and heroic faith in God’s love. Some people have lost everything and their families are living in a refugee camp. Others saw their loved ones killed. These young people really want to help make a new start. They have organised festivals in different towns, involving thousands of people. They worked to rebuild a school and a garden at the centre of a small village where construction had never been finished due to the war. They have helped many refugee families. The words of Chiara Lubich come to mind, ‘Christian joy is like a ray of sunlight shining through a tear, a rose flowering from blood-stained ground. It is the essence of love distilled from suffering. That is why it has the apostolic power of a glimpse of Paradise.’  In these Syrian brothers and sisters of ours, we saw the fortitude of the first Christians in the way they witness, during this terrible war, to their trust and hope in God who is Love. Their witness helps their friends have the same trust and hope. Thank you, Syrian friends, for this lesson in lived Christianity!”

Letizia Magri

[1]Cf. Phil.4:5.

[2]Acts 20:35.


soundcloud.com/…/word-of-life-december-2018-rejoice-in-the-lord-always-phil-44

Posted in Spirituality, The Word, Word of Life, Word of Life for older children, Word of Life for teenagers, Word of Life for young children, Word of Life Media | Leave a comment

December Word of Life

Word of Life

for ages 4-8 | for ages 9-17 | Print | Audio


St Paul wrote to the community in the city of Philippi at a time when he was being persecuted and in serious difficulties. Yet he advised these dear friends of his, in fact he almost commanded them, to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

Is it right to command this kind of thing? Looking at the world around us, there are not that many reasons for feeling good about life, never mind joyful!

With all the worries we have, the social injustice and strained relationships between nations, it’s already hard work to avoid being overwhelmed and discouraged, and therefore just living for ourselves.

Nonetheless, we hear Paul’s invitation to:

Rejoice in the Lord always.

What was his secret? Chiara Lubich wrote “There is a reason why, despite all our difficulties, we should always be joyful. If we take Christian life seriously, it gives us joy. Through Christian life, Jesus is alive in us and when we are with him we cannot fail to be joyful. He is the source of true joy, because he gives meaning to our life and guides us with his light. He frees us from fear, whether we are concerned about the past or about something yet to come. He gives us the strength to overcome all the difficulties, temptations and trials that we might encounter.

Christian joy is not simple optimism, nor is it the security given by material wellbeing. It isn’t the cheeriness of those who are young and healthy. Instead it is the fruit of a personal meeting with God in the depths of our hearts.

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Paul went on to say that this joy enables us to welcome others in a kindly way and be ready to use our time for others.[1]

Moreover, on another occasion, Paul referred explicitly to Jesus’ saying, “There is more joy in giving than in receiving.”[2]

Being in Jesus’ company gives us an interior peace that has a “disarming” power and can often have a positive impact on the people around us.

Not long ago, despite the dangers and challenges of the war, a large group of Syrian young people met together to share their experiences of living the Gospel and experiencing the joy of mutual love. They went home again determined to witness that it is possible to live as one family.

We were sent this feedback by one of the people there:

“We heard so many stories about great suffering and pain but also about great hope and heroic faith in God’s love. Some people have lost everything and their families are living in a refugee camp. Others saw their loved ones killed. These young people really want to help make a new start. They have organised festivals in different towns, involving thousands of people. They worked to rebuild a school and a garden at the centre of a small village where construction had never been finished due to the war. They have helped many refugee families. The words of Chiara Lubich come to mind, ‘Christian joy is like a ray of sunlight shining through a tear, a rose flowering from blood-stained ground. It is the essence of love distilled from suffering. That is why it has the apostolic power of a glimpse of Paradise.’  In these Syrian brothers and sisters of ours, we saw the fortitude of the first Christians in the way they witness, during this terrible war, to their trust and hope in God who is Love. Their witness helps their friends have the same trust and hope. Thank you, Syrian friends, for this lesson in lived Christianity!”

Letizia Magri

[1]Cf. Phil.4:5.

[2]Acts 20:35.


soundcloud.com/…/word-of-life-december-2018-rejoice-in-the-lord-always-phil-44

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Eli Folonari in the words of Maria Voce

 

“I got to know Eli better when I was asked to join Chiara’s Secretariat, which she was responsible for. I was struck by her serious and balanced approach and, I would say, by the tenderness that I discovered beneath what sometimes seemed a rather severe exterior.

Eli did  all  that  Chiara asked her to do with heroic faithfulness. Chiara had entrusted her with the aspect of fellowship and communion, which translates directly into communications. This meant ensuring that everyone could be informed of everything at any time. She did this to the utmost. I saw always near Chiara, supporting her, being her friend, her sister and an adviser too in the many things that needed to be done. At the same time, I never saw her taking over from Chiara. All she did was done so that Chiara and the charism she was conveying could reach everyone without any hindrance. This, I feel, was the full achievement of her ‘design’: she enabled all those who came to Chiara to become one heart and one soul”.

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Thank you Eli

She was born in Milan, in Northern Italy, on 8 February 1926. She was the eldest of Luigi and Speranza Folonari’s eight children, a rich industrial family in Brescia. After graduating in Business & Economics at the Sacred Heart Catholic University of Milan, at the age of 25, Eli, for the first time, heard about the newly-born Focolare Movement from Valeria (Vale) Ronchetti. That same year, while spending her holidays not far from Tonadico (Trent), where one of the first Mariapolis gatherings was taking place, she decided to attend together with her siblings Vincenzo and Camilla. It was on that occasion that she met Chiara Lubich.

She moved to Rome in 1951, and she accompanied Chiara on all her trips around Italy, as well as South America, Asia, Australia, North America, Europe. “It was a divine adventure,” she said, “Keeping up with Chiara was no mean feat! We went from one surprise to another.” She was Chiara’s confidant and counsellor in the difficult years when the Focolare Movement (Work of Mary) was being studied by the Church. She also followed, in a particular way, all the media developments within the Movement: the birth of the St Claire Audiovisual Centre named after St Claire of Assisi, as well as the beginning, in Switzerland in 1980, of the “conference call” which soon extended to all the nations where the Focolare was present. Whilst it started off simply as a way of sharing the spiritual life, joys and sufferings among everyone, the conference call subsequently evolved, through technological advances, into that which today is a live streaming event via satellite! Still now it is referred to as CH (from the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica) in order to be true to its Swiss origins.

Eli always accompanied the founder of the Focolare Movement on important encounters with the great dignitaries of our time: from Pope Paul VI to John Paul II, from Mother Teresa of Calcutta to Vaclav Havel and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I. Her testimony as a direct witness to these events is contained in the book Lo spartito scritto in Cielo. Cinquant’anni con Chiara Lubich (“The Score Written in Heaven. Fifty years with Chiara Lubich” (Città Nuova, 2012).

Giulia Eli Folonari was the Director of the Chiara Lubich Centre since its foundation in July 2008, right up until 2014. This institute aims to be a custodian of the thought of Chiara Lubich, to assure its authenticity and to help spread her charism, as well as to preserve the history of the Focolare Movement through meetings, conferences and a dedicated website. The Centre ensures that the rich patrimony of paper-based archives and multimedia documents that the founder of the Opera di Maria left behind is made available to scholars and the public in general.

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Home of the nations, family of peoples

Beatriz Lauenroth

Beatriz Lauenroth, a journalist, is one of the promoters of Together for Europe, the free convergence of Christian communities and movements. The over 300 different Churches act on the network with shared objectives for the Old Continent, promoting a culture of reciprocity through which individuals and peoples can welcome one another, and get to know and support each other mutually. Beatriz is a true citizen of Europe: born in Germany, she spent the last 10 years in Holland and the prior 20 in Russia: “There, I lost my heart. I fell in love with that country and the relationships I had established with the people.”

We asked her to explain how “Together for Europe” was born. “I think it all started on 30 May 1998 ˗ she recounted ˗ when John Paul II invited all the movements and the new ecclesial communities to St. Peter’s Square. There, Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, felt the urge to commit herself to the Pope in promoting unity among the Catholic movements. Then there was a step forward in 1999, precisely on 31 October in Augsburg, Germany, with the signing of the Joint declaration of the Doctrine of Justification by the World Lutheran Federation and the Roman Catholic Church.”

It was a historic event for the ecumenical path: “That same evening, many had gathered not far away in Ottmaring, seat of the ecumenical town of the Focolare. Chiara Lubich was there with other representatives of the movements, like Andrea Riccardi of Sant’Egidio, and also other Protestants like Helmut Nicklas, head of the YMCA of Munich (Ecumenical Association of Christian Youths). They said: let’s join up, get to know one another, and start working together!”

That first tract of the journey lead subsequently to the big “Together for Europe” events of 2004 and 2007, held in Stuttgart, and later in 2012, contemporaneously in 152 cities with the fulcrum in Brussels, and in 2016, in a main square of Munich, Germany, with 36 round tables and forums to share experiences, good practices and perspectives regarding Europe. In November 2017, the meeting of the friends of “Together for Europe” reached Vienna, the city bridge between East and West. On those days, this free forum of Christian movements and communities got together in Prague, on the occasion of the anniversary of the start of the so-called Velvet Revolution, the nonviolent revolution which in 1989, toppled the Czech communist regime:

“It is a coincidence that strongly challenges the friends of ‘Together for Europe,’ to renew our common commitment of bringing the spirit of Christian humanism to post-century culture, thus offering our contribution in giving life and form to a more united Europe.” Beyond all the fears and prejudices, we wish to testify that the journey towards a Europe which is “home to the nations and family of peoples” is not a utopia.

The Prague convention opened with the speech of the Czech theologian-philosopher, Tomáš Halík (Templeton-Prize 2014), a personal friend of Vaclav Havel, the first president of the newly constituted Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003, and then of Jaroslav Šebek, a member of the Historical Institute of the Science Academy of the Czech Republic, and of Pavel Fischer, Czech senator. The directors and representatives of the various Movements,

Communities and Associations intervened to recall together another Europe, that of the big hopes and promises that arise from the rich heritage of an ethnic, social and cultural multiplicity, and that tends toward communion and dialogue. The Prague event has thus become an important step in the history of Together for Europe that continues to commit itself to a more united and fraternal Europe. “Often we mention ˗ Beatriz concluded ˗ the Founding Fathers of Europe, Schuman, De Gasperi and Adenauer. The youths say to us: let us work with you, so that the Europe of the fathers can also become the Europe of the sons and daughters.”

B
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Spring shoots of Interfaith Dialogue in Scotland


On November 6th, Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti and members of The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland Committee of Inter Religious Dialogue met with Dr. Mohammad Shomali, Director of the Islamic Centre in London and Azzam Mohamad, Director of the Ahl Al Bait Society Scotland.

The discussion focused on education. Archbishop Conti spoke about Gaudium Spes – “the Church in the modern world”. This encyclical,written by Pope Paul VI in 1965, speaks about peace building in every sector of society and about the dignity of the human person.

He was followed by Dr. Shomali, who said “Education is in everything we do. We must prepare the youth for a new world in the way we relate with one another.  We need to work together and to receive guidance from the Holy Spirit.  We need unity of all traditions.  Our presence here is to demonstrate our unity, we come here with an open heart, we want to work together for unity.” 

Then a very lively dialogue followed, covering the shared values held by faith schools. There was a common urge to work together and to study issues relevant to Christianity and Islam, particularly the direction of education on sex and relationships.

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was one of the key speakers at the 5thAnnual Peace and Unity Conference at The City Chambers, Glasgow, also on  November 6th.

This event is sponsored by Ahl Al-Bait Society (Scotland) in collaboration with other faith and community groups and aims to bring eminent figures from political, academic, civil, religious and activist backgrounds to a platform of dialogue and hopefully greater and inclusive networks. Other key speakers were the Rector of the University of Glasgow Aamer Anwar; the deputy chief constable for local policing DCC Will Kerr, Dr. Mohammad Shomali and others from different backgrounds from across UK.  Each one gave a short speech followed by an interactive exchange with a panel of 4 from diverse fields of work.

  • Alison Phipps holds the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integraton through Languages and the Arts and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
  • Shaykh Hassan Rabbani is the Imam of Annandale Mosque in Edinburgh, Founder of Zainab Cobbold Institute, an initiative to promote education in Glasgow.
  • Aqeel Ahmed is currently a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Naira Dar is the Equality & Organisational Development Consultant at University of West Scotland

They were all excellent. One of the themes was education for the most vulnerable, and a young person with autism who spoke very powerfully received a standing ovation from the audience of 300 people. Members of the Focolare community in Scotland were happy to meet up with friends and ‘family’ from Ahl Al-Bait, joining together to go out to build new networks for collaboration and change.

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The Holy Spirit, soul of the ecumenical journey

 How does the Holy Spirit work in today’s Church? Does it still make sense to talk about an ecumenical journey at a time marked by fragmentation, complexity, scandals and humanitarian challenges even for Christians?

Two years after the Lund event, that gave a new impetus to the ecumenical dialogue, 40 Bishops of various Churches, from 18 different countries, met in Sigtuna, Sweden. This conference, promoted by the Focolare Movement, was held from 6 to 9 November and its theme was “The Breath of the Spirit, the Church in today’s world”.

Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, Jesús Morán co-president and representatives of the Focolare Community in Sweden also attended this conference. Maria Voce spoke about “The Breath of the Spirit, soul of the Church, in the experience and thought of Chiara Lubich, while Jesús Morán presented present-day challenges from the perspective of the spirituality of unity.

This conference, which has come to its 37th edition, owes its origin to an experience of synodality and communion, which John Paul II had proposed to Klaus Hemmerle, Bishop of Aachen.

“In addition to our different recounts, we wanted to give ample space to dialogue and sharing about the ecumenical challenges we live in our countries and continents”, said Cardinal Francis Kriengsak Kovithavanij, Archbishop of Bangkok and moderator of the conference.

Mons. Brendan Leahy, the Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Limerick, Ireland dealt with the important theme of reconciliation. While speaking about the power of forgiveness in the context of the scandals that hit the Irish Church, he said: “The Spirit urges us not to be robbed of hope (see Rom 8). Discouragement is a great temptations, but the Spirit keeps our hope alive and helps us restart to live a new commitment in the Christian adventure of unity and reconciliation”.

The Anglican Bishop Trevor Williams, an Irish man, spoke about his experience as a pastor. For several years he has been having under his care the ecumenical community of Corrymeela, in Northern Ireland, who has contributed much towards the path of reconciliation between the different factions in conflict. “Reconciliation is not an option; it is a necessity if we want peace to last. We live in a world of “they” and “we”. But in truth there is only “we”. Revealing this truth is work of reconciliation, work of the Holy Spirit”.

The German Evangelical-Lutheran pastor Jens-Martin Kruse shared his pastoral experience in Rome, an ecumenical laboratory that functions also thanks to Pope Francis.

Bishop Munib Younan, former president of the Lutheran World Federation, who presided over the historical ecumenical liturgy in Lund together with Pope Francis in 2016, spoke about the journey of common reflection that continues after the 500 years commemoration of the Reformation.
“I assure you the Holy Spirit guided us and continues to guide us towards an ecumenical springtime. It is up to us now to reap the fruits of unity. Today we say: let us journey together as living witnesses in our fragmented world so that the world will believe.”

One of the highlights of this conference was the ecumenical prayer in the ancient Church of Sigtuna and the signing of the “Pact of Unity”. With the signing of this Pact, the Bishops committed themselves to journey along the path of effective and affective communion, “to love the Church of the other as one’s own”. This commitment was sealed with one’s own signature and a fraternal embrace.

 

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