International Movement
We Are Church / European Network
Europe: the house we share

A.  The Unity of Christendom

  • 1.  The humiliating execution of their rabbi on the cross plunged this small congregation into bottomless despair.  The went into hiding or fled Jerusalem.   Two of those disciples, possibly a married couple, were on their way to Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger.   He interpreted the confusing events of the previous days for them and opened their hears to a new understanding of Scripture.  When they broke bread they recognized him.  But he disappeared from their eyes.  With burning hearts they returned to Jerusalem and searched for the other members of their little community in order to tell them about their experience.  Their friends had searched for one another as well, for all of them had similar experiences, and jointly they put together a total picture.  He is stronger than death, he vanquished death, he rose from the dead!
  • 2.  The multiplicity of testimonials makes this credible!  Then as well as today.  Very different people at different locations reported similar experiences.  And, filled with joy, they told others.  And thus, together, the Good News of Christendom is born.
  • 3.  Today as well,  Christ lives in his churches.  At different places, in different ways human beings experience him as the Risen One and source of hope.
  • 4.  This is the reason Vatican II considers the reunification of all Christians as a major task since the division "openly contradicts the will of Christ," because it " scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature" (Vatican II, UR 1).  However, the different churches are not expected to give up their diverse traditions and unique features that have developed over the centuries in favor of a yet to be created "unifaith."  Churches shall remain churches and become church (J. Ratzinger).  There can be no reunified church without a balanced and mutual "being with" and "being within" of unity and diversity. Whoever wishes to promote unity must also promote diversity.  Thus, the Council expects: "All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail" (Vatican II, UR 4).
  • 5.  According to Konrad Raiser the common house of Christendom is supported by four pillars: The one baptism, the one creed, the common celebration of the eucharist, and the reciprocal acceptance of ministerial offices.  As we compare doctrines presented in the various denominations of the one church, we should not forget that "When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a "hierarchy" of truths" (Vatican II, UR 11).  This emphasis on the "hierarchy of truths" demands that we acknowledge that not all truths of faith hold the same place value in the totality of the faith. 
  • 6.  Despite those beautiful words from all sides, progress toward a unified Christendom (Oekumene) proceeds only haltingly.  Thus many Christians were disappointed by the "Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism" by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that was approved by Pope John Paul II in 1993.  While baptism was singled out as sacramental bond between the Christians of the separated churches (No. 92ff.  ecumencial Sunday worship services was deemed inadvisable (No. 115).  Especially, as we seek to work quickly toward a  common celebration of the eucharist, this provision is unfortunate, especially in light of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism which pointed to the eucharist as not only "signifying"  the unity of the church but "making it a reality" (Vatican II, UR 2).
  • 7.  In its  "communio-theology" and the self-understanding of the church as the "people of God" the Council indicated the path we must follow in the future.  Once we acknowledge that baptism makes us joint participants in the one Lord we cannot legitimately withhold the common celebration of the eucharist, since it is the internal consequence of the one and indivisible participation in Christ.  The bishops must earnestly address  the question concerning the true reasons for their traditional – albeit not categorical -- No in reference to the sharing of the eucharistic celebration or at least eucharistic hospitality of all Christian churches. 
  • 8.  The Forum of European Christians expects the Synod of Bishops for Europe will courageously and decicively promote the process of Christian unification (Oekumene) and will abandon its objections to eucharistic hospitality.
B. The Dialogue with the Jews of Europe
  • 1.  For centuries, Christian intolerance had fought against the integration of Jews into their respective European societies, and not until the Enlightenment and secularization did integration even become a possibility. Withing a few years, the totalitarian experiments of this century in Europe  not only almost managed to destroy those advances but committed a genocide of indescribable proportions.  Ironically,  European civilization owes a great debt to its Jewish members that had been marginalized for so long. (Suffice it to mentions such names as Spinoza, Freud, and Einstein).  This is a matter of finally atoning for centuries of injustice by working toward reconciliation.
  • 2.  But quite apart from this fact, it behooves Christians not to forget that, according to Paul, we are branches from a wild olive tree, grafted in among the branches of a cultivated olive tree [the Jewish people]: "If you do boast, remember that you do not support the root; the root supports you" (Rom. 11, 18).  If we really want to come to know our tradition and our roots then we must not merely  go back 2000 years but we must try to inquire into the faith of Jesus, his roots and his tradition, along with the current manifestations of faith and the civilization of the people known as "God's first love."
  • 3.  The Forum of European Christians expects the Synod of Bishops for Europe to consider Christian-Jewish relations in Europe a priority of interreligious dialogue and make it an institutional effort.
C. The Dialogue with the Muslims of Europe
  • 1.  To Islam Europe owes major debts as well.  Muslim philosophers and mathematicians laid the foundation for humanistic and scientific scholarship in Europe.  Muslim mystics influenced the Spanish mystics, such as Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or Ignatius of Loyola, and through them the entire Occident.
  • 2.  Since globalization and the expansion of market economy is causing a latter day Völkerwanderung that drives ever more people from the South and East into Western Europe, the number of Muslims in Europe is constantly increasing.  Frequently they are individuals with no deep roots, unwanted in their native lands, for whom Europe represents hope.  Here, however, they tend to experience themselves as unwanted foreigners.  Islam becomes for them a symbol of their human dignity and the backbone of their identity, as they try to receive answers from a God for whom they are beloved and affirmed persons rather than unwelcome aliens.
  • 3.  We must build a common Europe of the 21st century, but it may not be unnecessary for us, as Christians, Jews, and Muslims,  to remember the high culture of tolerance among the three religions that flourished in medieval Spain.
  • 4.  The Forum of European Christians expects the Synod of Bishops for Europe to systematically demolish the image of Islam as enemy.  The version of Islam that has developed here in Europe must be acknowledged in its uniqueness.   Dialogue with representatives of Islam must be promoted and institutionalized, not only involving religious authorities but also political authorities in the various European countries and the European Union.
D. The Dialogue with Modernity
  • 1.  The hunger for spirituality and transcendence and the search for meaning are essential characteristics of a large majority of the members of society at the end of the twentieth century.  But the wheel of history cannot be reversed.  Values, such as democracy and human rights, scientific progress that has allowed life expectancy to increase all over the planet and opens up dazzling possibilities for liberating all of humanity from grave material want, all rest on the foundation of victorious rationality.  Thus far these developments have happened randomly and greatly increased the differences in material wellbeing and political freedom among the various nations of the world.  In addition, the dangers of unbridled progress are becoming ever more apparent.  Nevertheless, the rationally based values of democracy, human rights, and material progress have attained universal validity and are viewed by people all over the globe as desirable goals.  Rationality, however, implies the development of individuals and their striving for individuality.  And that development is entirely in keeping with Christian anthropology of the person and human dignity.
  • The hunger for spirituality and transcendence and the search for meaning can no longer be satisfied today with answers that resulted from questions posed in a bygone era.  We are perplexed, like the Emmaus disciples.  The old interpretive paradigms are no longer effective.  Who opens our eyes to the deeper understanding of scripture?  Who is the stranger who goes with us, whom we see, but do not recognize?  Who breaks the bread with us and shares with us what all of us need to for life?
  • The common house of Europe can only be built when we are ready to listen to one another and to take seriously the respective existential questions and the tentative replies.  Europe is made up of many diverse nations with vastly different traditions and sensibilities. Europe brings together different religious traditions.  All of them have the right to build the common home.  Only in collaboration can meaning be found.  Only if it is accepted by a majority can it be valid.
  • 4. The Forum of European Christians expects the Synod of Bishops for Europe to make serious efforts to acknowledge the yearning for spiritual experience that is found especially among the younger and middle generations, and to take care not to exclude emergent new forms of religious milieu and worship but rather, if at all possible, to integrate such developments.  The Forum also expects that modernity will be carefully and respectfully analyzed in order to recognize within it – in serious effort and humble attentions to God's guidance -- the signs of the Spirit. 
Council citations come from the Decree "Unitatis Redintegratio."

Translated from the German by Ingrid Shafer


„The time has come for us to follow the Pope's lead not by merely restating that the Church is the community of Jesus' disciples, but by making this people's actual experience of the Church."

Bishop Peter James Cullinane
President of the New Zealand Bishops‘ Conference
At the Oceania Synod, November 1998

To allow the Forum of European Christians in Rome (7-9 October 1999) to engage in vigorous discussion of this text, it is essential that many women and men examine the text and begin the process of collaboration immediately.

For this reason we ask our readers to send their comments to the address listed below as soon as possible but no later than 15 September.  Please, keep in mind that we may have to consider a very large number of such contributions.  We ask that you assist us by stating your position as concretely and succinctly as possible.  Also, please understand that given the expected number of responses we will not be able to incorporate every suggestion in the final document.

Nevertheless, we are counting on your collaboration and hope that in this way we can liberate the Synod from its golden episcopal cage and turn it into a matter to be discussed by the entire people of God.

Comments to:

Elfriede Harth

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Webpage Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
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Posted 12 August 1999
Last revised 12 August 1999
Electronic text Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer