Bethlehem Bulletin: Colloquium of Christian Church Leaders in Jerusalem Assesses Growing Ecumenical Movement

By Kelley, Elaine | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 3, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Bethlehem Bulletin: Colloquium of Christian Church Leaders in Jerusalem Assesses Growing Ecumenical Movement


Kelley, Elaine, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


BETHLEHEM BULLETIN: Colloquium of Christian Church Leaders in Jerusalem Assesses Growing Ecumenical Movement

Sr. Elaine Kelley is a development officer at Bethlehem University.

The Swedish Christian Study Center in Jerusalem hosted a colloquium April 7 to assess recent progress in building an ecumenical movement within the Christian churches of the Holy Land. "The New Millennium: the Past Meets the Future in Jerusalem" featured three presentations by representatives of organizations in the forefront of the Christian ecumenical movement. They were Fr. Frans Bouwen, a member of the White Fathers in Jerusalem who is president of the Commission for Justice and Peace and editor of Preche Orient Chretien; Dr. Harry Hagopian, an attorney and the executive director of the Middle East Council of Churches and the convenor for the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee; and Fr. Robert Fortin, general secretary of the Roman Catholic Jubilee 2000 Committee in Jerusalem.

The colloquium, which followed a February inter-church Synod held in Bethlehem, a local Sabeel conference in March, and a high-level ecumenical meeting of church leaders with Pope John Paul II on March 25, all addressing ecumenism in the Holy Land, attracted a number of high-ranking church officials, including Roman Catholic Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Pietro Sambi and Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem Abuna Gabriel, as well as laity involved in the ecumenical movement such as Jack Khazmo of the bi-monthly pro-Fatah magazine, Al Bayader al Siyasi.

White Father Frans Bouwen opened with a brief history of the ecumenical movement in the Holy Land, which he described as "this small little spot where everything happened." Pointing to its "richness of diversity," Bouwen stated that "diversity has become division" in the Holy Land. He said that the divisions, however, originated some place else and were "brought here," and that "all churches in the world are responsible for these divisions."

Recounting the "long troubled history" of the country, Bouwen described the two primary obstacles in inter-church relations, the "long period of conflict here" and the "creation of new church communities in the second half of the 19th century." He mentioned recent changes toward an emphasis on cooperation within the church communities which he said began with the joint project of the restoration of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Bouwen said that the second difficulty started when Western church missions arrived with various new theologies, and that "instead of helping the local church from within [they] created new communities and churches."

Local Christians became members of the new churches, opening wounds and creating competition among the churches. He said the recent visit of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land was "an opportunity for discussion."

Fr. Robert Fortin described projects undertaken by his office and the guiding principles of ecumenical cooperation. Fortin, an Assumptionist priest who is also rector of St. Peter in Gallicantu in Jerusalem, said that the Conference of Catholic Bishops created the Jubilee 2000 project for the purpose of "breaking down barriers within churches" and to "assure the active participation of the Christians of the Holy Land" in Jubilee events. He said efforts such as the Synod in Bethlehem have resulted in progress, and referred to the historical difficulties in implementing inter-ritual celebrations, pointing out that language and space limitations added to the difficulty in achieving a "common pastoral approach" to celebrations.

Fr. Fortin included the "unsettled peace process" as a "stumbling block" to attaining a coherent pastoral plan among the churches. He said another problem is that the main holy sites still are governed by a "complicated status-quo" system with its "engendered fear of losing acquired rights."

However, he said, the Dec. 4 interchurch inauguration of Bethlehem 2000, in which all the traditional churches participated and prayed together publicly, was a major step.

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