PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY
FINAL COMMUNIQUÉ OF THE JOINT GROUP
The Joint Working Group (JWG) between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (WCC) held a plenary meeting near Bari, Italy, from 5 – 11 May 2003. This was the fourth plenary meeting since the 1998 General Assembly of the World Council of Churches which set out the present mandate of the JWG, under the leadership of the two co-moderators, Archbishop Mario Conti (Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland) and Bishop Jonas Jonson (Lutheran Bishop of Strängnäs, Sweden).
The meeting was held at Oasi Santa Maria, a centre for spirituality, under the direction of Monsignor Colucci of the archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto, located just outside the town of Cassano delle Murge. Archbishop Francesco Cacucci and the whole local church welcomed the JWG in the traditional spirit of the Bari region, renowned for its history of contacts between Christians of various Churches, drawn to the Basilica of Bari which houses the tomb of St Nicholas.
Each day morning and evening prayer were celebrated according to the varied traditions of the churches and Ecclesial Community represented in the working group.
Two new members were introduced to the group: the Most Revd Brian Farrell LC, the new Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who replaces the Most Revd Marc Ouellett who has become the Archbishop of Quebec; and Monsignor Felix Machado who replaces the Most Revd Michael Fitzgerald who has become the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The representatives of the WCC and the Catholic Church met separately for a brief time for some specific orientation, then moved into full plenary to share some significant developments in the lives of the WCC and the Catholic Church since the last meeting. The WCC representatives reported on the results of the Special Commission on the Relations with the Orthodox Churches, and the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Faith and Order held in Lausanne in 2002 and shared the plans thus far for future world events such as the Faith and Order Plenary (2004), the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (2005) and the next Assembly of the WCC itself (2006). The representatives from the Catholic Church reported on the wide scope of bilateral relations and dialogues between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Mennonite, Pentecostal and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as well as consultations with the Seventh Day Adventists and Evangelicals.
Much of the time of the meeting was given over to the discussion and detailed examination of draft texts related to three major areas under study by the JWG: The Ecclesiological Implications of Baptism; the Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialogue; and Roman Catholic Participation in National and Regional Councils of Churches. Gratitude is due to the sub-groups who had prepared these texts for discussion. Much progress has been made in these studies and mature texts are anticipated for refinement at the next plenary, to be included in the report that JWG will make to the next Assembly of the WCC, and to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
A progress report was heard on the ways that the Churches and Ecclesial Community are engaging and collaborating on the Decade to Overcome Violence, and the JWG reaffirmed its commitment to supporting this important ecumenical initiative. The plenary also received updates on the matter of interchurch marriages and took note of the upcoming meeting of the International Association of Interchurch Families which will be held outside Rome in August.
The Revd Dorino Angelillo from Caritas Puglia visited the Working Group to give a comprehensive presentation on the situation related to refugees and immigrants in Italy in general and the region of Puglia in particular, highlighting the challenges that are before governments and churches as individuals and populations, of different cultures and religions, settle in the country.
This was followed by a reflection given by Professor Franco Vaccari, the President of Rondine-Cittadella della Pace, who spoke of the development of peace initiatives, particularly involving young people from areas of conflict in the world.
The rich ecumenical environment of Bari was experienced on several occasions. An opening ecumenical prayer service was held in the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta in Cassano delle Murge, at which Archbishop Cacucci presided, with testimonies presented by local Orthodox, Waldensian, Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist participants. The whole event was organised by the Ecumenical Group of Bari under the leadership of Fr Angelo Romita. Afterwards the Mayor of Cassano delle Murge, Giuseppe Gentile, addressed the JWG and spoke of the unity of Christians as a necessary sign and encouragement to civil society in its search for greater harmony and service to the common good.
A visit was made to the Dominican Patristic Institute of Bari which is a centre for ecumenical dialogue, research and learning, bringing together Christians principally from Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds. A visit to the museum of the diocese of Bari-Bitonto helped to illustrate the important crossroads that Bari has been for Christians from Byzantine, Slav, Latin and Armenian traditions for over 1000 years.
The members participated in the celebration of the translation of the relics of St Nicholas at the waterfront in Bari, presided over by Archbishop Cacucci, which highlighted the strength of popular devotion to St Nicholas, who is venerated by the Christian East and West. The evening events concluded with a festive dinner to honour the JWG, given by the Mayor and municipal authorities, in the presence of the Archbishop. On Sunday, the members of the JWG prayed at the tomb of St Nicholas and visited the Archbishop at his residence.
The co-moderators expressed to the sisters and staff of the Oasi Santa Maria the gratitude of the members of the JWG for their warm hospitality and support which contributed to the success of the plenary.
The next plenary session of the JWG is planned for 6-13 May 2004.