The following interview with Fr Manuel Barrios Prieto, secretary general of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), is part of a series dedicated to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
What stood out for you during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020?
Fr Barrios: My most memorable experience of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was participating in the ecumenical celebration that took place in Zagreb’s Cathedral. I was there as secretary general of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Union (COMECE), together with our president, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich (SJ), and a delegation of the Conference of the European Churches (CEC), with its president, Rev. Christian Krieger. We had gone to Zagreb to meet the prime minister of Croatia as this country was starting its half-year presidency of the Council of the European Union and COMECE and CEC normally organize together a meeting with the authorities of the presiding country at the beginning of its term to make known the priorities of the churches in Europe.
When we found that Croatia’s main celebration of the Week of Prayer was going to take place on Sunday 19 January, we decided to anticipate our trip to Zagreb to be able to participate. Both our delegations were warmly received by the Croatian Bishops’ Conference, hosted at its headquarters and kindly invited to take part actively in the ecumenical celebration in the cathedral.
It turned out to be a beautiful ecumenical moment of prayer and encounter. The celebration was wonderfully prepared according to the material for the year. After the service we were all invited for dinner by the cardinal-archbishop, together with members of the local churches.
I have to say that we really experienced firsthand the words of this year’s theme: “They showed us unusual kindness.” It was also the first time for me to participate in an ecumenical celebration in Croatia and I was surprised at the importance given to ecumenical relations there.
Has your relation to other Christian communities been changed by praying together?
Fr Barrios: Very much so. I have been responsible for ecumenical relations in Spain for more than eight years as director of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue at the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. For many years I have also been responsible for organizing the main ecumenical celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity taking place in Madrid. Organizing together with other ecumenical partners these services and participating in them has always made me feel deeply the Lord’s desire for our complete unity and the beauty of being together as brothers and sisters, disciples of the one Lord.
The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020, “they showed us unusual kindness,” invited reflection on the meaning of kindness and hospitality to strangers. Has it strengthened your ecumenical efforts in that area?
Fr Barrios: I think it has. In my new responsibility as secretary general of COMECE I try to advocate with all the strength I can before the EU institutions in favour of the most vulnerable and voiceless, of migrants and refugees, asking the EU institutions to show kindness and solidarity to these brothers and sisters that arrive to our coasts and borders. I try to do this work of advocacy together with my ecumenical partners in Brussels because I know this is a common call to all Christians and doing it together unites us more.
Sisters share wisdom of life rooted in Christ for next week of prayer for unity (WCC press release of 10 June 2020)