Daring more communion – that is the goal of the new dialogue that Catholics and Protestants in Europe agreed on last Sunday. Contentious ies abound – but so does the will to cooperate.
The alphorn quartet shows how dissonance can become harmony by accompanying the festive service in Basel Cathedral with sustained, spherical sounds.
Then the Vatican ecumenical minister Cardinal Kurt Koch and Gottfried Locher, President of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), sign a joint statement. In the next few years, it should pave the way for closer cooperation between Catholics and Protestants in Europe.
Declarations of intent
"We want and need to come closer together; it would be best to present a first interim report of our dialogue as early as in two years' time," said Locher.
At the same time, he dampens overly high expectations: "For the time being, we only have a declaration of intent. What we can really achieve, we will perhaps only see in ten or even a hundred years' time."
Koch also believes that solid results and sustainable understandings need time: "In ecumenism, passion and patience should come together."
Christians from all over Europe celebrate
Yesterday, however, the atmosphere in Munster, near the Rhine, was one of celebration and festivity. 600 Christians from all over Europe came.
They prayed and sang together in German, English and French. They heard intercessions in Finnish and experienced that the Hallelujah can also be recited yodeled.
The high significance of the festive service at the CPCE General Assembly, which is organized only every six years, is demonstrated by the welcoming address of the Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis: "The agreed dialogue is an important step. Precisely because the churches in the past have very often emphasized very strongly what separates them."
Strong and united voice of the church
Switzerland, the Federal Council said, was therefore keen to offer mediation services. In his sermon CPCE President Locher expressed his conviction that the dialogue between the churches is not only based on special theological questions.
"There is a need for a strong and united voice of the churches in Europe. For more justice and peace," Locher said, referring to migration, unrest in the Middle East, the war in Syria and the smoldering conflict in Ukraine.
Christians must stand up for peace
Christians should not only passively enjoy peace and take it for granted, but must always stand up for it anew. Theologically the talks between CPCE and the Vatican are intended to set a new signal for ecumenical progress.
So far, the Vatican has always conducted its official dialogues globally with certain confessional families, i.e. with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Anglican Communion or the Orthodox Church.
A dialogue with CPCE thus enters new territory in two respects: for it is a regionally limited and at the same time denominationally non-uniform group. Koch stresses he is entering this new territory confidently.
Different self-understandings of the churches
During the preparation, "a lot of positive and common things" have already emerged, it said. "We want to build on this."First of all, it is about the differing self-understandings of the churches. Then, he said, the long-term goal of communion could also be considered.
Locher says the most concrete dialogue questions possible are important to him. "In the process, everything can honestly be put on the table. Even the positions that seem non-negotiable today. And then we can perhaps come up with five factual questions and deal with them as quickly as possible," said the CPCE President.
Dispute over the ordination of women
Still in the service, he confronted Koch with the conflict ie of women's ordination: While only men are ordained in the Catholic Church, women pastors are a matter of course in most Protestant churches.
"This is non-negotiable for the Protestant churches," says Locher. Koch replied: "And for us Catholics, communion with the pope is indispensable." There is not yet a precise timetable for the dialogue talks.
Koch announced that it is now a matter of determining the circle of participants and the topic agenda. Locher floats idea of meeting in rotating locations across Europe and including not only specialist theologians but also grassroots women and men.