Ecumenical Charter to Direct Dialogue in Europe

Landmark Document Approved by Christians

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STRASBOURG, France, APR. 23, 2001 ( -Christians in the Old World, the scene of great schisms, now have a common document to promote dialogue and the quest for full unity while avoiding errors.

The 12-point declaration, “Charta Oecumenica,” is an attempt to promote cooperation among the Churches and Christian confessions of Europe in proclaiming the one Gospel, as well as promoting relations with other believers and nonbelievers.

The document was signed Sunday by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, president of the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), representing Catholics, and by Orthodox Metropolitan Jérémie, president of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). The latter embraces 123 Orthodox Churches and Reformation communities.

The signing was the culmination of the European ecumenical meeting held here from April 19-22.

The Ecumenical Charter, which is divided into three fundamental sections, is the result of four years of work, a follow-up to the last meeting of this nature held in Graz, Austria, in 1997.

The charter´s introduction states that the document is “a common commitment to dialogue and cooperation. It describes fundamental ecumenical responsibilities, from which follow a number of guidelines and commitments. It is designed to promote an ecumenical culture of dialogue and cooperation at all levels of church life, and to provide agreed criteria for this. However, it has no magisterial or dogmatic character, nor is it legally binding under church law.”

The ecumenical movement continues despite obstacles. The introduction says, “We cannot be content with the present situation. Instead, aware of our guilt and ready to repent, we must strive to overcome divisions still existing among us, so that together we may credibly proclaim the message of the Gospel among all people.”

The first section is a common profession of Christians´ faith in the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

The second section, “On the Way Toward the Visible Fellowship of the Churches in Europe,” assumes a series of commitments. Given the absence of points of reference and the evident search for meaning by European men and women today, the charter invites Christians to witness to their faith without creating competition among the confessions.

There is firm commitment “to recognize that every person can freely choose his or her religious and church affiliation as a matter of conscience, which means not inducing anyone to convert through moral pressure or material incentive, but also not hindering anyone from entering into conversion of his or her own free will.”

As a means to greater rapprochement, the charter states that it is fundamental to “reappraise together the history of the Christian churches, which has been marked by many beneficial experiences but also by schisms, hostilities and even armed conflicts. Human guilt, lack of love, and the frequent abuse of faith and the church for political interests, have severely damaged the credibility of the Christian witness.”

The charter calls for concrete defense of minority rights, by eliminating mistakes and prejudices among majority and minority churches.

The quest for unity is proposed, especially through prayer and joint celebrations. It mentions with regret the churches´ inability to participate in the same Eucharist, because of essential differences on this sacred matter. “A particularly painful sign of the divisions among many Christians churches is the lack of eucharistic fellowship,” the document says.

In fact, in “order to deepen ecumenical fellowship, endeavors to reach a consensus in faith must be continued at all cost,” the charter stresses. “Only in this way can church communion be given a theological foundation. There is no alternative to dialogue.”

The third section, “Our Common Responsibility in Europe,” points out that the current process of integration of the Old World needs a soul.

“We are convinced that the spiritual heritage of Christianity constitutes an empowering source of inspiration and enrichment for Europe,” the document explains. “On the basis of the Christian faith, we work toward a humane, socially conscious Europe, in which human rights and the basic values of peace, justice, freedom, tolerance, participation and solidarity prevail.”

Christian leaders of all confessions “insist on the reverence for life, the value of marriage and the family, the preferential option for the poor, the readiness to forgive, and in all things, compassion.”

It continues: “As churches and as international communities, we have to counteract the danger of Europe developing into an integrated West and a disintegrated East, and also take account the North-South divide within Europe.”

The document also addresses relations with Judaism and Islam. It condemns all types of anti-Semitism and guarantees its appreciation and commitment to collaborate on issues of common interest with Muslims.

Lastly, the charter refers to the meeting with other non-monotheist religions and persons with different views of the world. It counsels openness and great prudence. “Yet a distinction must be made between the communities with which dialogues and encounters are to be sought, and those which should be warned against from the Christian standpoint,” it says.

“Jesus Christ, the Lord of the one Church, is our greatest hope of reconciliation and peace,” the charter concludes. “In his name we intend to continue on our common path in Europe. We pray for God´s guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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