Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century: What We Learned at Assisi 2012

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century: What We Learned at Assisi 2012

Article excerpt

At a time when dialogue between churches and faiths has been described as being in a state of impasse and decline for some time, as has that between faith communities and the wider world in which they live out their faith, sources of hope and inspiration for the transformation of such a status quo are much needed. Many reading this essay will be all too familiar with the fallout from the ecumenical winter that descended in the 1980's that has continued to blight the lives of churches ever since. The advances in interfaith dialogue made in the 1960's through the 1990's in particular were also tempered by ideological and methodological shifts as well as those political and cultural developments that undermined much of the progress made by the rum of the century. Various conflicts and September 11, 2001, and the subsequent responses to it have further damaged religious understanding, harmony, and coexistence.

In the past three decades or so, there has been an increasing shift in focus and attention to a broader understanding of the dialogue needed in these times. This has been described as the transformation to a "wider ecumenism." In itself, as an aspiration, this was not completely new, although the methodological and practical attentiveness now given to it was. (1)

In still more recent times, the urgent need for new pathways for dialogue has been accentuated even further--and not simply in light of global conflicts and ethnic tensions in so many societies. In addition to the strained relations across differing faiths that widen the imperative for ecumenism to be reenergized and for its outreach to be expanded, there is just as urgent a need for ecumenical and dialogical advances now to be developed and applied within particular churches and faith communities, as the increasingly fraught tensions and divisions within certain of them in recent years make all too evident, as do the intrareligious clashes between differing branches of the Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist families in many countries. Do the hope, will, and energy exist to reignite the ecumenical and interfaith dialogical flame for our century? A gathering in Assisi, Italy, in April, 2012, helped to demonstrate that they clearly do.

This gathering, organized and facilitated by the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network, took as its focus, "Where We Dwell in Common: Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century." It drew together over 250 participants from around the globe, from fife-five countries and from many different churches and faith communities, to explore the theme of dialogue from the perspectives of the past, present, and future. The overall aim of the gathering was to discern new ways, means, and methods of advancing the dialogical cause with renewed energy for a new century. It was intended to be not so much a conference, convention, or event as the beginning of a process--indeed, a series of ongoing processes. The intention was to identify, share, and shape, as well as to put into practice, productive pathways for dialogue for these times. The organizers wished participants not just to be speaking about dialogue but to be engaging in it on multiple levels--being together, interacting, sharing, and opening up to other possible perspectives.

We cannot overlook the fact that the world has changed in dramatic ways. Cultural, intellectual, and social trends and developments impact ecumenical and ecclesial life as much as they do any other area of human existence. We need to discern the numerous implications of the obvious fact that the world in the twenty-first century is very different from what it was in previous times. Therefore, in clearing pathways for dialogue we need to be mindful of this. Accordingly, such pathways need to be developed in innovative ways. Hence, the 2012 gathering was, above all else, aimed at encouraging ecumenical, interfaith, and faith-world "thinking outside the box." It brought together a richly diverse array of voices in order to help make this happen. …

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