IV. Some Other Areas of Collaboration
1. The WCC's Office for Inter-religious Relations (OIRR) and the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) annually
hold a joint meeting. Besides information-sharing, these meetings
offer an opportunity to examine developments in interreligious
relations, assess initiatives for dialogue and to reflect on future
orientations and priorities. The PCID and OIRR invite each other
to take part in their respective activities as well as in the
meetings of their advisory bodies. Three joint projects during
this period may be highlighted:
2. The OIRR and PCID study document Reflections on Inter-religious
Marriages, published in 1997, grew out of a study launched in
1994 by sending questionnaires to different churches and communities
and to a number of Christian and non-Christian spouses. The responses
to these form the basis of the first part of the document. The
second part takes stock of pertinent materials already produced
by churches and Christian communities. The third part presents
reflections of a pastoral nature. While addressed primarily to
pastors, the document may also be useful for other people concerned
with interreligious marriages.
3. Interreligious prayer is a growing phenomenon and there is
a need to provide pastoral help to the churches. Is it possible
to pray with people of other faiths which have different symbol
systems and if so what does this mean? The OIRR-PCID joint study
project Interreligious Prayer and Worship had three phases: a
worldwide survey on the phenomenon with the help of the local
churches (completed in 1995); a small consultation of persons
who are engaged in the practice of interreligious prayer; and
the formulation of conclusions by a consultation of persons with
theological expertise (1997). A small number of Christian theologians,
including RCs, offered biblical perspectives on interreligious
prayer, the different readings of prayer in the churches and in
their tradition, and different assessments of interreligious prayer.
4. The Middle East remains a major conflict area in which Jews,
Christians and Muslims urgently need together to seek reconciliation,
peace and justice. In particular, the city of Jerusalem requires
people of these three monotheistic faiths to respond to that common
religious call first revealed to Abraham: "to keep the way
of the Lord by doing what is right and just" (Gen 18:19).
This is the background of a process initiated by the Lutheran
World Federation and bringing together the OIRR, PCID and the
Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to
co-sponsor two colloquia on Jerusalem.
The first colloquium on the spiritual significance of Jerusalem
for Jews, Christians and Muslims took place in Glion, Switzerland,
in 1993, before the Oslo political agreement between Israel and
the Palestinian National Authority The Jewish, Christian and Muslim
participants came mainly from Israel/West Bank-Gaza. By the time
of the second colloquium, in Thessaloniki, Greece, in August 1996,
the peace process was faltering and pessimism was in the air.
The attempts of this colloquium to imagine the future of Jerusalem
were unsuccessful. The final message recognizes Jerusalem as a
"place of encounter between God and humanity and among human
beings in their diversity." Jerusalem "is called to
be the City of Peace, but at the moment, there is no peace. Although
the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has been initiated,
there is still a long way to go before a just and lasting peace
1. Participating in each JWG plenary was the secretary of Cor
Unum, the pontifical council for promoting charitable works by
Catholic institutes, which finance projects for the needy and
facilitate relations with other Christian diaconal and secular
international organizations. He kept the JWG up-to-date on Cor
Unum activities and suggested ways of building bridges between
it and the WCC's Program Unit on Sharing and Service (Unit IV).
In February 1997 the Unit IV director and a staff member went
to Rome to introduce 1997 as the ecumenical year of churches in
solidarity with uprooted people in meetings with the pontifical
councils Cor Unum, for Migration and for Promoting Christian Unity,
as well as with Caritas Internationalis. Together they explored
areas for dialogue and practical cooperation.
2. The JWG received an extensive report on the main orientations
and activities of Unit IV and its understanding of diakonia as
an integral part of the churches' witness. This report detailed
the established working relationships, in particular with RC international
agencies, to assist refugees, uprooted people and migrants; and
it identified common concerns for developing cooperation at the
regional and national levels within those ecumenical organizations
which have local RC churches in their membership.
The JWG observed that although the order of priorities may differ
and the language used may not always be the same, both partners
deeply shared the fundamental concerns regarding poverty and its
root causes. But there is an asymmetry in the visible collaboration
between offices concerned with diakonia in Unit IV of the WCC
and in the Holy See (as is also the case between Unit III of the
WCC and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace).
For the JWG two questions remain: (a) how can the dimension of
diakonia best be included in encouraging common witness, without
disregarding the potential for divisiveness over what is authentic
diaconal witness and what is proselytism? (b) how can the JWG
take this into account in fulfilling its duty to encourage and
facilitate local ecumenism (national and regional councils of
Social thought and action
1. Cooperation between the RCC and WCC member churches in social
thought and action is very intense on many levels and in different
ways, especially where the RCC is a member of national councils
of churches. Events such as the two European Ecumenical Assemblies
(Basel 1989; Graz 1997) show the possibilities of major collaboration
and common witness on a regional level.
2. A number of difficulties mark the history of direct collaboration
between the offices in Geneva and in Rome. From 1968 to 1980 the
co-responsible agency between the Holy See and the WCC was the
Joint Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX). It
was replaced, in 1982, by a weaker instrument, the Joint Consultative
Group for Social Thought and Action, which became defunct in 1989.
Specific tensions arose around efforts at collaboration in the
WCC's 1990 world convocation on justice, peace and the integrity
of creation (Seoul, Korea), growing out of differences between
the WCC and the RCC in their approach to ideological tensions
in the world, as well as their differing understandings of and
structures for playing a role in international affairs. Also to
be taken into account are the many legitimate differences of viewpoint
on social and political questions existing within each church.
3. The JWG noted the recent efforts of Unit III of the WCC and
the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) to reinforce
their working contacts as the principal central instruments of
collaboration in social thought and action. After an interruption
of several years, the annual exchange of visits between the two
institutions has been revived. These visits are finding new methods
for common identification of priorities to be explored together
while acknowledging one or the other body might be in a better
position to approach a specific subject on its own, with the encouragement
and support of the other. In this way it may be possible to test
moral principles concerning social questions, using different
methodologies while maintaining fellowship.
Among the issues in which future collaboration might be intensified
are poverty, economic justice including the international debt,
the environment, human rights, and conflict prevention, resolution
and reconciliation. Common work, such as a jointly sponsored course
of studies on Christian social thought today, could be carried
out. The jubilee year 2000 could offer special occasions for collaboration.
Unit III and the POP have also decided to intensify their exchange
of information and to encourage participation in each other's
meetings as observers. A PCJP representative already participates
in the Unit III commission meetings.
Both sides exchanged texts and documentation on religious freedom.
The WCC drew attention to some aspects of the legal position of
the Protestant churches in Latin America, where the majority church
is Roman Catholic.
4. PCJP encouraged RC episcopal conferences to take part in the
WCC petition campaign on climate change. The POP was represented
in the WCC consultation on climate change (November 1996); and
WCC representatives joined the RCC consultation on social thought
and action for the English- and Portuguese-speaking African countries
(August 1996) and the European conference on the social teaching
of the church (July 1997).
5. The WCC and the PCPCU have also cooperated in projects involving
other partners. An example was the March 1993 peace delegation
to Guatemala and El Salvador, organized by the Lutheran World
Federation and also including representatives from the WCC, the
PCPCU, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA,
and the Latin American Council of Churches. The delegation met
with leaders of the RCC and Protestant churches in Guatemala;
and a special ecumenical prayer service was organized in the Catholic
cathedral in Guatemala City The group also met with the president
of Guatemala and other government officials, with the ombudsman
for human rights, with widows, refugees and war victims, with
the chairman of the reconciliation committee facilitating the
negotiations between the government and opposition leaders, and
with representatives of the civil sectors.
In December 1996, after 36 years of war, the government of Guatemala
and the opposition forces signed a peace treaty. The ecumenical
concern which the peace delegation had expressed three years earlier
was also a significant gesture which showed the Guatemalans, especially
in the churches, the support they were receiving from fellow Christians
in other parts of the world.
Decade of churches in Solidarity with Women
1. The WCC inaugurated the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity
with Women (1988-1998) with the goals of encouraging and facilitating
responses to women in their efforts to affirm their full, creative
empowerment in the life of their churches, through shared leadership
and decision-making, theology and spirituality; of giving visibility
to women's perspectives and actions in the struggles for justice,
peace and the integrity of creation; of denouncing violence against
women in its various forms; of considering the effects on women
of the global economic crisis and the worldwide upsurge of racism
and of xenophobia; and of enabling the churches to free themselves
from racism, sexism and classism and from all teachings and practices
that discriminate against women.
2. The Decade has given an opportunity for shared reflection and
conscientization regarding the realities of the experiences of
women as they participate in the life of the churches and in various
cultural and political settings. Although the Decade was adopted
as a program for WCC member churches, the RCC has been involved,
most noticeably in meeting and acting together at local levels.
Participation of RCs in local associations and councils of churches
has allowed for joint planning, meetings and celebrations as the
Decade progressed. Some RC church leaders were active in inaugurating
and promoting the work of the Decade. For example, the RC bishop
of Khartoum launched the Decade in the Sudan; and the National
Board of Catholic Women acted in a consultative role on the Decade
concerns for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
3. At its midpoint (1994-96), the Decade was "given back
to the churches themselves," highlighted in a program which
sent some 75 ecumenical teams to visit nearly every member church
of the WCC. RC members of national and local ecumenical groups
joined in welcoming and hosting many of these WCC initiated
visits and took an active part in the mid-Decade celebrations
and events. For example, in Surinam, RC church workers participated
in a series of discussions on the leadership of women in the churches.
Awareness of shared concerns among churches was heightened in
During this period some papal documents mirrored concerns regarding
women which are closely allied to WCC's goals for the Decade.
4. A summary report Living Letters was published by the WCC in
1997 on the basis of the findings from the team visits. Among
the insights emerging from the Decade's worldwide activities,
the report notes that although the Decade was addressed to the
churches, it has in fact been limited mostly to women; the churches
have not owned the Decade, nor have they provided the support
necessary for it to become a transforming promise to the churches
together. Nevertheless, for some the Decade has offered the opportunity
to recognize that issues relating to gender and to community are
not simply "women's issues" but belong to the Christian
community of women and men that is, to the whole church.