*By Philippa Hitchen
The Ecumenical Institute Bossey, which Pope Francis visits on Thursday, 21 June, as part of his pilgrimage to the World Council of Churches in Geneva, is a workshop of ideas, where the future path toward Christian unity is being mapped out.
Founded in the aftermath of World War II to promote dialogue and encounter among members of the different Christian churches, the institute is housed in an elegant 18th-century château overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond.
Known as a pioneering “ecumenical laboratory,” it offers master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as shorter study programmes under the tutelage of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant professors.
Among this year’s group of eight master’s graduates is Tamar Korashvili from Georgia, a majority Orthodox country that left the World Council of Churches two decades ago.
She studied art and medieval history before coming to Bossey and hopes to work for women’s rights and gender equality when she returns to her native country.
According to the laws, she says, “there is equality, but in families and in society we are still struggling to deal with some problems.”
These include child brides, she notes, especially within Muslim communities, where children as young as 13 or 14 years old are married off and “don’t have any chances of education.”
But also within the Orthodox Church, she continues, patriarchal attitudes and a lack of women in leadership “somehow affects everyday lives of the people in Georgia.”
Tamar says she would like to see women’s ordination, but she also cites experiences of other Orthodox communities, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which are tackling gender equality and teaching greater respect toward women.
In Georgia, she says, when women have their periods, they “know they should not go for Communion, they cannot baptize [their] child”. Yet “several Romanian priests told me this is not a problem for them,” she insists, adding that it shows how we “really can deal with these problems, even without having to change the structure of Church.”
Her studies and experiences in Bossey with people from so many different cultures and religious backgrounds have given her a new sense of responsibility about speaking up for change in the church and in society.
“My perception of the world has changed,” she says with a smile as she talks about her friendship with a student from the Maluku Islands in Indonesia. “She taught me many things, and we discovered that in [our] cultures we have a lot in common, in Georgia and in Maluku. This is incredible how [the] world becomes closer here at Bossey!”
*Philippa Hitchen is a Vatican-based journalist