By Susan Gately - 07 July, 2016
At an open air manifestation at the centre of Munich last weekend, 5,000 people affirmed their belief that unity is possible in the world, in Europe and among the Churches and “reconciliation opens up the future”.
Together for Europe drew together members of 200 Christian movements and communities from many Churches, as well as Church leaders.
The open air gathering at the Karlsplatz in Munich, last Saturday was streamed live for four hours to thousands of people all over Europe.
The rally followed a two-day congress with the title Encounter.Reconciliation.Future which saw 1,700 participants from 40 European nations delve into the problems facing society today in plenary and round table sessions, sharing how, coming from a Gospel perspective, movements are engaged in addressing issues.
Catholic theologian and expert in ecumenism, Joan Patricia Back who lives in Dublin, was at the Munich event.
She has been involved in Together for Europe since its founding stages in 1999 and believes it is of great ecumenical importance.
“It shows that the dialogue of life, of a living ecumenism is the answer to reconciliation between the Churches,” she told CatholicIrelandnet.
“The experiences we heard in Munich gave great hope that unity is possible. The message we wanted to get out was that 500 years of Church division in Europe are enough and that what the world needs is our united witness to the Gospel.”
Watching the live streaming of the event in Belfast were members of three ecumenical communities: the Corrymeela Community, Focolare and the Sword in the Spirit community.
“In the wake of the sense of confusion, numbness, and uncertainty post Brexit, I was filled with much hope,” Irene Jovaras from Focolare told CatholicIreland.net. “It gave me a greater desire for us to work more together.”
In his message to the outdoor rally, Pope Francis said it was time to get together, to face the problems of our day “with a true European spirit”.
He warned of the walls “made of fear and aggression, a failure to understand people of different backgrounds or faith” being built in people’s hearts.
“Europe is called to reflect and to ask itself whether its immense heritage, so permeated with Christianity, belongs in a museum or is still able to inspire culture and to offer its treasures to the whole of humankind.”
Calling Together for Europe “a unifying power” aimed at “translating the basic values of Christianity into concrete responses to the challenges of a continent in crisis”, the Pope said that if Europe wanted to be a “family of peoples”, it had to “put the human person back at the centre; it should be an open and welcoming continent, and continue to establish ways of working together that are not only economic but also social and cultural.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I also sent a video message to the gathering.
Speaking at the Karlsplatz, Focolare President Maria Voce, invited everyone to make a solemn commitment to be “catalysts for a new vision for Europe, so as to speed up the journey towards unity by starting a profound dialogue with and for all the men and women on earth”.
The Metropolitan of the Orthodox Romanian Church of Central and Northern Europe Seraphim Joanta shared the joys and sorrows of his mission.
“We suffer for the fundamentalist forces that threaten to destroy the efforts of unity among Christians,” he said. “Moreover young people are missing in our churches. But we trust in Christ and in this network of brothers.”
Two Irish bishops were present at the Congress event, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry and Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick who was impressed by the “youthful atmosphere at the event”.
“There were many young people present and involved. They spoke with confidence about the future of Europe. That gave real hope.”
Bishop Frank Otfried July, vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation said that churches were living many experiences together like working for refugees and praying.
“We want Christ to be the centre of Europe,” he said.
His colleague, Evangelical Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, President of the Lutheran Confederation in Germany, pointed out that 2017 would be the Jubilee of the Reformation. “We want to live it together: Evangelicals and Catholics.”
The final message, read by the leaders of the movements Christian Churches and communities expressed the next steps to be taken: “Europe must not become a fortress and build new frontiers. There is no alternative to being together. […] We ask all Christians [(…)] to overcome the divisions. Our commitment: we live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bear witness to it with our words and deeds. […]We are committed to building up humanity and peace in the world.”