Signing of the Charta Oecumenica, Strasbourg, 2001

Signing of the Charta Oecumenica by Metropolite Jérémie, president of the Conference of European Churches and Cardinal Vlk, president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences in Strasbourg, 22 April 2001.


On 22 April, European Churches were remembering the 20th anniversary of the Charta Oecumenica with prayers and thanksgiving when both the Vatican and Conference of European Churches celebrated virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The European Ecumenical Charter was signed in 2001 by the presidents of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and the Conference of European Churches to promote closer collaboration and ecumenical dialogue in Europe.

Sørensen reminded in an interview that St Paul’s letter says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” as he looked at the document and its future with cautious optimism.

Since 2001, the year of the bombing of the twin towers in New York and the other violent events, massive global efforts for inter-faith dialogue ensued and, at the same time, much more person-to-person contact in the Christian family.

Identity politics

More recently, there has emerged the concept of "identity politics,” which has made its way into Christian groups.

"However, if we are able to live by Paul's letter, the question of identity politics should not be a problem in the ecumenical movement, or for Christians as such.

"But the question remains, of course, is it possible for us, to live out that Pauline vision, that mission of St Paul, be able to live out that vision?"

On 12 April, Rev. Christian Krieger, president of the Conference of European Churches, and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, issued a joint statement on that Christian unity document.

"Several interfaith initiatives have flourished," the statement remarks. "Churches have strengthened their work towards a just and peaceful world (…) and have increased their efforts towards the care of creation."

Cardinal Bagnasco and Rev. Krieger say, "the message of the Charta Oecumenica has contributed and given new vigour to this growth and transformation."

Sørensen observed that, like any other document, the charter reflects the time it was written.

"But it doesn't take away the relevance of the document, or the foundational thoughts that you find in the document," he says noting that climate is an issue that has drawn Christians together.

He believes that church members, rank-and-file Christians, and members of Christian communities are probably closer to one another than they were 20 years ago.

"I think it also goes for ordinary Christians, who enjoy the fellowship of churches and enjoy being together with other Christians in various contexts and situations; I believe that has grown since 2001.

"I think more people today meet one another, despite family differences in the church family.

"On the institutional level, I think we're moving at a different speed. Because it takes it more time when you look at, for example, the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission."

That is a slow process, "because you sit down, you discuss theologically. You reflect on the biblical texts together, and so on so forth. It's a different kind of being together."

Different levels

"It's different to what you see amongst ordinary churchgoers if they go to meet someone from a different family. So, it's two different levels," observed Sørensen.

"But I think that on the grassroots level, we will see Christian communities coming together more regularly than they do today, especially at the local level where people know one another.

"And, you know, where they share destiny and relationships in that local area, where they get together, like Pentecostals and Roman Catholics and Protestants and so on and celebrate together as much as you can; in that sense, I think we will see more of that.

"I hope that St Paul was right when he was writing as he did."

The Conference of European Churches and Council of European Bishops' Conferences said in their message, "As we strive towards the Reign of God, our societies and churches continue to be challenged by our human sin and all kinds of division.

"Old and new church divisions are in need of healing; societal and economic inequalities call for the transformation of our attitudes and structures."

The Conference of European Churches