Saturday, May 8, will be a historical milestone for the ecumenical movement in Europe. It marks the first European meeting of Christian churches movements and ecclesiastical communities to offer their contribution to the building of European unity.
Convened by more than 150 movements from different Christian traditions under the theme "Together for Europe", about 10,000 participants are expected to gather at the Hanns Martin Schleyer Sports Palace, in Stuttgart, Germany. The international assembly embraces members of the Evangelical, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox churches and the Anglican Communion. The event is hosted by the World Council of Churches.
The program features addresses by founders and leaders of movements and communities, including Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission; Chiara Lubich, from the Focolare Movement, a movement of spiritual and social renewal in 182 countries; and Orthodox priest Heikki Huttunen.
May 8 is the V-E (Victory in Europe) Day in memorial of the unconditional surrender of all German forces in 1945, bringing about the end of World War II in Europe. Together with the expansion of the European Union with 10 new entrants a week ago, it has enriched the meaning of the day.
Throughout history, Europeans have witnessed continuous turmoil between nations and religions; especially the wounds brought by World War II have been deeply engraved in the continent's innocence. Even worse, nowadays Christians are challenged by the secular forces that have shaken Christian heritage in Europe.
By looking back to the false history of bloody conflicts, as many Christian leaders have acknowledged, Christian heritage has not been upheld powerfully.
As a university professor of history, Andrea Riccardi of the Community of Sant'Egidio recalled that the idea of the meeting first emerged at the ceremony of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification of the Catholic Church and of the World Lutheran Federation on October 31, 1999.
"The Christian roots of Europe are not something that forms part of the past," said Riccardi. "Personally I lament the failure to present with greater clarity the Christian history of Europe in the Constitutional Treaty."
This event aims to provide a platform for unifying all European Christians regardless of their denominations to give a soul to the new Europe in building a "unity in diversity" world as what is shown in the gospel.
While many Christian leaders are very much concerned about the possible changes in the religious and social face in Europe, this gathering may be a sign of a bright new start.
Gabriella Fallacara, director of the Centro Uno for the promotion of ecumenical dialogue explained that "Stuttgart is a point of arrival but also a point of departure; it will be the first of other events, which perhaps will be carried forward by others."
As 10 more countries merge into the European Union, the united Europe is fast becoming a family of all cultures, economies, politics and education. Moreover, it hopes for a spiritual contribution, added Fallacara.
The organisers have tried their best to ensure none of the European countries are left out. Thanks to advanced technology, simultaneous meetings via satellite linkup with Stuttgart will be available in 147 cities of 29 European countries from Portugal to Russia and from Ireland to Malta. Also, it stretches out of Europe all the way to 45 cities of 32 countries in North and South America, Asia, Africa and Oceania.
The broadcasting will be held during the day from 10a.m. to 5:30p.m. on May 8 at the following website: http://www.miteinander-wie-sonst.de.
It will be shown live on a large screen at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.