Gianni Long Gauges State of Ecumenical Dialogue

Head of an Italian Church Federation Says 2001 Is Crucial Year

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MILAN, Italy, JAN. 19, 2001 ( – Avvenire).-
In the context of the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians,
the president of the Italian Federation of Churches, Gianni Long,
said that the year 2001 will be decisive for the renewal of the ecumenical road.
Long is a Waldensian and lay member of his church.

Italian evangelicals expressed this hope in a recently published document
entitled “Let Us Reopen the Door of Ecumenism.” The document, according to Long, “is a sign for the renewal of the dialogue,” in the wake of the problems that emerged regarding the interpretation of some recent Vatican documents.
However, Long pointed out that last year was not altogether negative:
“progress was made in the ecumenical road.”

–Q: Where, in particular, was progress made?

–Long: I am thinking of the agreement on interconfessional mixed marriages;
but also in all the work done on the Bible — the joint distribution carried out,
the literary interconfessional translation of John´s Gospel; the question of poor countries´ debt,
an objective that both Catholics and Protestants have promoted, although in different ways.
It is no accident that we indicated these points in the document as topics that
could be addressed in renewing the dialogue.

More generally, it can be said that, when we are faced with something specific,
something that has to be done, ecumenism progresses. Problems arise when we debate on principles.

–Q: Could the experience of common prayer also be the opportunity to learn to discuss principles?

–Long: We are not starting from zero. Let´s recall the whole road traveled
on the Our Father and biblical exegesis. At present, the exchange between
cultural traditions is a consolidated fact. It is quite normal for a
commentary written by a Protestant to be used in a Catholic department of theology,
and vice versa. Many times one only realizes this after reading the note
on the author on the inside cover.

–Q: What can be expected from common prayer?

–Long: It is intercessory prayer; and it can also help us to identify
the points of difficulty together. It is a generic prayer for the unity of Christians, in which it is easy for all to be in agreement. However, there can also be an invocation on some special aspects of the ecumenical road.

For example, I am thinking of mixed couples: Up until a few years ago,
they were the rock of scandal. Today, however, during ecumenical meetings they are
a reason for common prayer. God´s help is invoked on these persons,
who live personally the suffering of the division between the churches.

–Q: The year 2001 is proclaimed as important. The “European Ecumenical Charter”
is being debated and, in April, an assembly will be held in Strasbourg.
How do you see these two challenges to ecumenism?

–Long: I think that we do not have too many difficulties, as regards the “Ecumenical Charter,
” in preparing a text that is acceptable to all.

In regard to the assembly of European Christian confessions,
the fact that it will not be held in Salonica [Greece], as originally planned,
is a symptom of the problems that exist in the Orthodox world.
It is a pity that after a Protestant reality like Basle, and a Catholic one like Graz [1997],
this experience cannot be lived in a country with an Orthodox majority.

In any event, Strasbourg offers interesting aspects:
It is the place of Europe´s political future, it is the city that symbolizes human rights.
In any case, what is important is that 2001 be a year of openness in every sense.
In this connection, I have found the Pope´s message of Jan. 1 very interesting.
This is also [the objective] of the document we have just written.

–Q: Beyond official relations, what is the situation of ecumenism in Italy at present?
Is there a “popular” experience of dialogue between Christians of different confessions,
which impressed many in the last ecumenical assembly in Graz?

–Long: The Jubilee was a problem for different reasons; but the spirit remains.
I see it, also, in everything that was organized during this Week of Prayer.
Ecumenism is a topic that is cherished. However, let´s not fool ourselves:
On the subject of the unity of Christians we are also faced with the
problem of how to reach beyond those who are most “committed.”
Perhaps, in order to make this awareness grow, thought might be given
to something like a mass ecumenical meeting, such as the “Kirchentag” in Germany, for example.

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