Known as an ecumenical father figure and advisor for many editors and communicators, Barnas was a monk of the monastery of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the international Benedictine monastery of Chevetogne. He died from complications of COVID-19.
Barnas was a regular WCC visitor, and also attended as accredited media the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea in 2013 and meetings of the central committee since the 1990s.
Engaged and passionate about writing, ecumenism, and unity, Barnas served as an advisor and friend to the WCC communications team. “We have lost a great friend of the ecumenical movement in the global pandemic. My first contact with him in the WCC was in 2015, when I was a brand new communication director, and he told me quite frankly that we didn’t prioritize media relations as we should!” fondly recalled WCC director of communication Marianne Ejdersten. “He even had a seminar on the WCC and media relations in Moscow for hundreds of media to promote the work of unity, justice and peace.”
That same year, he also spent several days in Geneva, getting to know the work of the WCC communications team. “He challenged us to find new methodologies to work for unity through media relations and the editorial part of WCC communications,” said Ejdersten.
Stephen Brown, editor of The Ecumenical Review and former managing editor at the Ecumenical News International news agency, recalled how Barnas was a fixture in the press room at WCC meetings.
“He had a lively, questioning attitude, was always well informed, and was a great colleague as a journalist, with a deep commitment to ecumenism,” said Brown.
Naveen Qayyum, communication officer at the Conference of European Churches (CEC) remembers, “Fr Thaddée Barnas participated as journalist in three CEC general assemblies, in Lyon in 2009, in Budapest in 2013, and in Novi Sad in 2018. His support towards CEC’s work in Europe and his faith in church unity will continue to inspire us.”
Rev. Jane Stranz, former Ecumenical Review managing editor, who encountered Barnas in many WCC and CEC newsrooms as well as at meetings between francophone ecumenical officers, stressed his dedication to sharing the good news about ecumenism.
“He epitomized the best of post-Vatican II Roman Catholic energy and engagement with ecumenism,” said Stranz. "He always wanted the WCC to excel. A great writer, a good and critical friend to the ecumenical movement.”
Born in Chicago, he studied at the WCC Bossey Ecumenical Institute. In the monastery, Barnas was a librarian for 22 years and sexton of the Byzantine monastery church for many years. He was the driving force behind Irénikon, the ecumenical magazine of the monastery, which was founded in 1926 and of which he was the director for several years and the editorial secretary until his death.
As chairman of the Ecumenical Pastoral Commission of the Diocese of Namur, he did pioneering work, including inviting other Christian churches to participate in the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He also taught ecumenism at the Namur seminary.
Barnas was a board member of the Catholic National Commission for Ecumenism, a committee established to promote the relations of the Catholic Church with the other Christian churches and faith communities and to further develop ecumenical pastoralism.