Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus



March 9th 2017   -    STS - Jerusalem
PLÁŠEK Vladimir

On March 9th 2017, the teachers and students of STS had a special opportunity to participate in an extraordinary event: “Cultural Initiative: Cultivating an Ecumenical Culture within the Church: Theology, Vision and Practice”.  The opening prayer, at 9.00 am, was led by Archbishop Pizzaballa.  The opening words were delivered by the President of STS, Fr. Biju Michael. The talks were given by three speakers: Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa on, Practical experience of dialogue in the Holy Land, Frans Bouwen, M.Afr., on the WCC document: The Church, toward a Common visionand William Russell, M.Afr., on Ecumenism in the study and teaching of Theological Disciplines.  Master of Ceremonies, Patrick announced the program: each of the three invited guests had twenty to thirty minutes to deliver their talk, followed by a question-answer time. Then a coffee break, group discussions and finally the presentation from each group outlining the outcomes from discussion. Finally, the guest speakers gave their response to the assembly.

His Excellency Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa started in an informal manner. He expressed the idea that the ecumenical dialogue in Jerusalem is more pastoral than the theological issue. His Excellency has already been living here for twenty-seven years, during which he has met many families who were touched by different religious and cultural contexts. For example, setting the date for Easter common to all churches, is not possible without leaving someone outside, because of different calendars.  He added that during his twelve years as the Custos of the Holy Land, he had seen positive ecumenical movements, for example comparing the restoration of the Basilica of Nativity and the restoration of the Holy Sepulchre. During the latter one, the agreement among the Churches was achieved, when all accepted to give the leadership of the restoration work to the Greek Orthodox Church with the other churches’ contribution and cooperation. He also underlined the importance of the meeting in 2012 between Pope Francis and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew. During the preparation for this event, many meetings regarding songs, prayers, speech and how to conclude were held almost every day. It created a positive atmosphere which prevailed also after the event. Finally, he suggested that existing problems could be solved by meetings, conferences and talking together. Generally it is important to work firstly on a human level, to create the fraternal relationships and then the achievements in official dialogue can be reached. Often we build our relations on the narratives from the past, he continued, but we have to make changes in common to understand each other, because from the cultural point of view, we are completely different. It is the question of justice, common understanding, patience and time, that 11, 000 Christians can by small steps, slowly move towards unity.

During the short discussion the archbishop explained that the Status Quo is more an attitude, than the written law. We have to explain to the pilgrims who come to the Holy Land and see the divisions, that the division is really a wound of the Church, and here in the Holy Land, as they touch the holy places, they can also touch the wound of the division of the Church. The divisions did not start in Jerusalem, they arrived here. Our attitude is to put oil on these wounds to heal them.

Frans Bouwen spoke about some of the articles from the document “The Church: Towards a common vision” by World Council of Churches. The central point in the document is the ecclesiology. The document was published in 2013 by the theological branch of the WCC, the Faith and Order commission, the most ecumenical and most widely representative forum on Ecumenism, that exists in the world. It answers the questions how far the Christian communities have come and what work still has to be done, how we look at our Church, how we see the other churches. Formal questions were sent to the churches, who appointed groups of theologians to answer them. It is Important to be aware of ecumenism at the local level. Studying the document may help to understand our own faith. There are many similarities with the text of the Second Vatican Council’s documents. It could be interesting to elaborate it in a scientific research, for example the understanding of the priesthood and the ministry. The document’s understanding should be integrated in the life of the Church. In the line of the document, legitimate diversity is a gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church and we have to preserve and treasure the legitimate differences of liturgy, custom and law.

William Russell spoke about the cultural change within the churches. The question that he proposed was: “What has happened to the Catholic culture?” There were many cultural shifts in history: at the time of reformation, at the council of Trent, at the Second Vatican Council.  He claimed that the Catholic Church can actually learn from other churches. For example, the novelty of the Parish Councils in the 1960s in the Catholic Church, was actually discovered long before by Protestant churches from the 16th century onwards. He also suggested that Ecumenism should permeate every theological discipline. Some issues in ecumenism are profoundly theological. It is not only meant for experts, it is something that infuses the life of the Church and promotes the conversion of heart.  A Papal document does not change culture but it provides direction for the culture that is already taking place in the Church and it takes several generations to receive it and live it with other people. Then things start moving. The aim is like a “reflex” for ecumenism. The openness is part of our faith and it must be directed by the Magisterium, otherwise it may be lost.

Before the group discussions, the Principal welcomed Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa to release the Sinhala translated version of the book “Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Handbook” by Biju Michael SDB, David Neuhaus SJ and Lionel Goh OFM. 

The group discussions were related to five questions.   
1.   Cultivating an ecumenical culture within the Church.
2.   Insights - old and new.
3.   Overcoming obstacles within or among us.
4.   Legitimate diversity (or Communion diversity).
5.   Theological formation.

The invited Speakers had the opportunity to have the last words. Frans Bouwen shed light on the non-solved question of the recognition of the Pope as the first among the bishops at the universal level and the Church of Rome as the first among the churches. With this, the Orthodox churches agree, but they do not agree to what degree authority should be appointed to him. Much still needs to be done in this area.  Fr Bouwen also underlined the importance of personal encounter with the members of other churches. We cannot learn ecumenism only on a theoretical level, we have to come to know the members, persons of the communities. We have to hear the others and learn from the others. William Russell pointed out that at present, in Pope Francis’ documents we find many quotations from the episcopal conferences around the world; that is something new. There are also some quotations of the Patriarch Bartholomew which leans towards a cultural change in the teaching of the Church and there are many cultural tendencies and shifts taking place. The importance is to talk with real people, not only read about them.  Such meetings change our relationships.

The words of thanks were given by John Paul Soro, the student representative of STS.




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