Joint Working Group between RCC and WCC
St. Christophoros Patriarchal Monastery, Saidnaya, Syria
26 September to 2 October 2010
This years’ annual plenary meeting of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches (JWG) was graciously hosted by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in the St. Christophoros Patriarchal Monastery in Saidnaya, Syria, from 26 September to 2 October 2010.
Encountering the churches in Syria has been a decisive mark of this meeting. The close ecumenical relationship among the churches and between their leaders was demonstrated by the presence of ten Heads and representatives of Churches and the Apostolic Nuncio in the opening session of the meeting. There was a powerful moment of witness to ecumenism during this session when His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, joined hands with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, His Holiness Zakka I Iwas, and with the Greek-Catholic Patriarch, His Beatitude Gregorios III.
With memorable visits to the three Patriarchs, and a reception for members of the diplomatic corps in the Embassy of the Holy See in Damascus, the JWG had the privilege to learn first hand about the life of the churches in Syria, their place in the society, and their inter-faith relationships. The Revd Dr Riad Jajour, general secretary of the Arab Group For Muslim-Christian Dialogue, formerly general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, and Mr Samer Laham, head of the development department of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate, were the resource persons for a seminar session on the situation of the churches in the Middle East, in which the JWG members were joined by a delegation of the Swiss Protestant Federation that was visiting Syria and other countries in the Middle East. A visit to the old city of Damascus, where St. Paul found shelter among the first Christians after his conversion, and to the monastery of St. Thekla and other convents and monasteries reminded the JWG members that this region is the cradle of Christianity. In Syria Christians have always had their place in the social fabric of society. The major tasks for the churches of the region are to sustain the Christian presence and to contribute to constructive inter-faith relationships despite deep conflicts in the region.
Under the leadership of the co-moderators, Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste (Romania) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (Ireland), the JWG plenary made significant progress in the work on study documents on the themes of Ecumenical Reception and Spiritual Roots of Ecumenism. The two study documents want to encourage reception of the rich fruits of decades of ecumenical dialogue towards the goal of visible unity and to deepen the understanding that the quest for Christian unity entails conversion and renewal, holiness of life in accordance with the Gospel, personal and communal prayer. The relevance of the work on Migration and Youth, two themes the JWG is addressing in its present mandate between the 2006 Porto Alegre Assembly of the WCC and the next Assembly in 2013 in Busan, Korea, was underlined by the representatives of the churches in Syria, who are deeply concerned about the decreasing number of Christians in the region and the future of young people.
In their final statements, the two co-moderators of the JWG expressed their deep gratitude to the hosting church and their appreciation for the opportunity for an intense and enriching encounter with church leaders in the country. Global efforts for ecumenism need to inter-act with the diverse realities of national and regional ecumenism in order to be meaningful and effective.