By Albin Hillert*
Twenty-seven international students from the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Switzerland, are embarking on a future of ecumenism, dialogue and unity that began with months of intense study and fellowship.
The students participated in a farewell service and ceremony on 27 January. “The content of the teaching at the Ecumenical Institute is focussed on the challenges for the churches in the 21st century, and the responses given through the modern ecumenical movement”, explains Rev. Dr Dagmar Heller, dean of the Ecumenical Institute and Professor of Ecumenical Theology. “The methodology is a combination of academic teaching and experiential learning. This makes the Ecumenical Institute a unique place for ecumenical education.”
Throughout the semester, the students learned about the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the wider ecumenical movement, its purpose, its history and its achievements. At the same time they practised ecumenical life by discovering and discussing their differences and by praying together.
“With this combination, the students discover ecumenism as a life question, which is not just a theoretical issue, but touches the essence of being a Christian”, says Heller. “In their future work, we hope the students will be able to help their churches to develop peace and reconciliation as the heart of their calling”.
During the recent Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the students were also given the opportunity to go on a study visit to Rome, hosted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “The purpose of the visit”, says Heller, “was to get intensive exposure to the Roman Catholic Church and its engagement in the ecumenical movement. For many students it was an extraordinary experience to visit historical places of early Christianity, which they had heard of only in few lectures at home. And their active participation in the Vespers with Pope Francis at the end of the Week of Prayer gave them a lively idea of what is already possible to do together”.
As the students’ time at Bossey has now come to an end, the director of the Ecumenical Institute, Fr Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca sent them on their way quoting Paul’s words to the Ephesians 4.1-4:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called…
Since its creation in 1946, the WCC’s Ecumenical Institute at the Château de Bossey has been fulfilling its mission of ecumenical theological formation and education.
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*Albin Hillert is a communications consultant, writer and photographer based in Umeå, Sweden.