To the
CEC MEMBER CHURCHES
and
EUROPEAN BISHOPS' CONFERENCES

Geneva/St Gallen, July 1999
Dear Friends,
Greetings in the name of our one Lord Jesus Christ. On behalf of the Joint Committee of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), it is our pleasure to invite the participation of your Church in what promises to be a most significant ecumenical development for Europe, at this critical time in the life of our continent and as we approach the new millennium. With this letter you will find a copy of the draft of the proposed

CHARTA  ECUMENICA  FOR  EUROPE.

We would like to explain fully to you the background to the CHARTA ECUMENICA, the process by which this draft has been prepared and the future stages of its formation in which your church is now invited to share.

Background

At the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz, Austria, in 1997 on the theme 'Reconciliation - Gift of God and Source of New Life', the recommendations endorsed by the Assembly included:
"We recommend that the churches develop a common study document containing basic ecumenical duties and rights. From this a series of ecumenical guidelines, rules and criteria could be developed which would help the churches, those in positions of responsibility and all members, to distinguish between proselytism and Christian witness, as well as between fundamentalism and genuine faithfulness, and help to shape the relationships between majority and minority churches in an ecumenical spirit". (Recommendations for Action 1.2).
The rationale for this recommendation was that 'The ecumenical fellowship is currently in a difficult situation as a result of various factors. This requires conscious counter-strategies. It seems necessary to foster an ecumenical culture of living and working together, and to create a firm basis for it.' Following the Graz Assembly, the idea of a 'Charta Ecumenica' along these lines was discussed in both CEC and CCEE circles, as a means of furthering the reconciliation between the churches of Europe for the sake of reconciliation with Europe itself. The CEC/CCEE Joint Committee, at its meeting in Rome in February 1998, resolved on a process to initiate the project. Accordingly in October 1998 a small working group appointed by both CEC and CCEE met at Cartigny, near Geneva and after intensive discussion prepared a preliminary draft. A larger group of some 40 persons, representative of the diverse confessional and geographical constituencies of the European churches, was then convened by CEC and CCEE and met in Graz at the end of April 1999. This group subjected the preliminary draft to rigorous examination and discussion. In the light of this discussion the working group revised the first draft, resulting in the document now sent to you.

The next stage

For the next stage, which will last just over a year, all the member churches of CEC and CCEE are invited to study and discuss this draft with a view to its further revision and development. Churches and Bishops' Conferences are encouraged to engage as many parishes, dioceses and church groups as possible in discussion of the Charta. It is hoped that it will not only be discussed within each church, but also between churches in each national context so that its bearing upon ecumenical life may be assessed. Comments are invited especially in answer to the following questions:

  1. How acceptable would this document as a whole prove to be to your church, as an encouragement and a challenge towards deepening ecumenical life and to sharing with other churches in a common responsibility towards Europe?
  2. What particular points in the document should be revised, and in what way?
  3. What topics calling for commitment by the churches in their relations to one another and to Europe, not at present included, should be added?
  4. What practical value might such a document have, and how might it actually be used, in the promotion of ecumenical life in your context and at the Europe-wide level?
We ask that such responses be sent to reach us by 1 September 2000. Responses from CEC member churches should be sent to the CEC General Secretariat in Geneva (KEK, P.O.Box 2100, 150 route de Ferney, CH - 1211 Geneva 2), and those from the European Roman Catholic Bishops' Conferences to the CCEE office in St Gallen (CCEE Secretariat, Gallusstrasse 24, CH - 9000 St. Gallen). It is our hope that receiving and discussing this draft will stimulate further ecumenical discussion in your own context. To that end, CEC and CCEE will be very glad to assist that discussion in any way we can, for example by arranging team-visits to your church or country or sharing in events that you yourself may wish to organise on the Charta. We shall look forward to hearing any suggestions you may wish to make.

The final stages and presentation

After 1st September 2000, the working group will consider the responses received and in the light of them prepare a final text to be submitted to the CEC/CCEE Joint Committee early in 2001. If the committee considers that a text has been prepared which is likely to be welcomed by the European churches as a whole, this will be signed by the Presidents of CEC and CCEE, and presented by them to the European churches immediately after Easter 2001.The occasion will be a European Ecumenical Encounter currently being planned by CEC and CCEE to take place then. This however will not be the end of the process but in a real sense its beginning. It is hoped that the Charta Ecumenica will be received and adopted by all churches as a declaration of their commitment to reconciliation towards one another, to common witness and service, and to peace and justice for the whole of Europe. In this way the Charta Ecumenica can provide a continuing means whereby th churches can measure their life, their growth in relationships to one another, and their common witness to the gospel of reconciliation. May we then look forward to your cooperation in this enterprise, and in due course to receiving the response of your church. With our prayers and good wishes, Yours in Christ,
Metropolitan Jérémie Caligiorgis
President
Conference of European Churches
Miloslav Cardinal Vlk
President
Council of European Bishops' Conferences

Final text of the Charter received at the
CEC/CCEE Ecumenical Encounter
held in Strasbourg in April 2001.

Charta Oecumenica

Guidelines for the Growing Cooperation among the
Churches in Europe

"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit"

As the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE)* we are, in the spirit of the Messages from the two European Ecumenical Assemblies of Basle (1989) and Graz (1997), firmly resolved to preserve and develop the fellowship that has grown up among us. We give thanks to the Triune God for guiding our steps towards an ever deeper fellowship through the Holy Spirit. Various forms of ecumenical co-operation have already proved themselves. Christ's prayer is: "...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21). If we are to be faithful to this prayer, we cannot be content with the present situation. Instead, aware of our guilt and ready to repent, we must strive to overcome the divisions still existing among us, so that together we may credibly proclaim the message of the Gospel among all people. Listening together to God's word in Holy Scripture, challenged to confess our common faith and to act together in accordance with the perceived truth, let us bear witness to the love and hope which are for all people. Europe - from the Atlantic to the Urals, from the North Cape to the Mediterranean - is today more pluralist in culture than ever before. With the Gospel, we want to stand up for the dignity of the human person created in God's image and, as churches together, contribute towards reconciling peoples and cultures. In this spirit, we adopt this charter as a common commitment to dialogue and co-operation. It describes fundamental ecumenical responsibilities, from which follow a number of guidelines and commitments. It is designed to promote an ecumenical culture of dialogue and co-operation at all levels of church life, and to provide agreed criteria far this. However, it has no magisterial or dogmatic character, nor is it legally binding under church law. Its authority will derive from the voluntary commitments of the European churches and ecumenical organisations. Building on this basic text, they can formulate their own local addenda, designed to meet their own specific challenges and resulting commitments.

* To the Conference of European Churches (CEC) belong almost all Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Old-Catholic and independent churches in Europe. In the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) are represented all Roman Catholic Bishops' Conferences in Europe.



I.   WE BELIEVE IN
"ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH"

"Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit; just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:3-6)

1. Called together to unity in faith

With the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the witness of Holy Scripture and as expressed in the ecumenical Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, we believe in the Triune God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because we here confess "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" our paramount ecumenical task is to show forth this unity, which is always a gift of God.

Fundamental differences in faith are still barriers to visible unity. There are different views of the church and its oneness, of the sacraments and ministries. We must not be satisfied with this situation. Jesus Christ revealed to us on the cross his love and the mystery of reconciliation; as his followers, we intend to do our utmost to overcome the problems and obstacles that still divide the churches.



We commit ourselves

  • to follow the apostolic exhortation of the Letter to the Ephesians and persevere in seeking a common understanding of Christ's message of salvation in the Gospel;

  • in the power of the Holy Spirit, to work towards the visible unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in the one faith, expressed in the mutual recognition of baptism and in eucharistic fellowship, as well as in common witness and service.




II.   ON THE WAY TOWARDS THE
VISIBLE FELLOWSHIP OF THE
CHURCHES IN EUROPE

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

2. Proclaiming the Gospel together

The most important task of the churches in Europe is the common proclamation of the Gospel, in both word and deed, for the salvation of all. The widespread lack of corporate and individual orientation and falling away from Christian values challenge Christians to testify to their faith, particularly in response to the quest for meaning which is being pursued in so many forms. This witness will require increased dedication to Christian education (e.g. catechism classes) and pastoral care in local congregations, with a sharing of experiences in these fields. It is equally important for the whole people of God together to communicate the Gospel in the public domain, which also means responsible commitments to social and political issues.

We commit ourselves

  • to discuss our plans for evangelisation with other churches, entering into agreements with them and thus avoiding harmful competition and the risk of fresh divisions;

  • to recognise that every person can freely choose his or her religious and church affiliation as a matter of conscience, which means not inducing anyone to convert through moral pressure or material incentive, but also not hindering anyone from entering into conversion of his or her own free will.

3. Moving towards one another

In the spirit of the Gospel, we must reappraise together the history of the Christian churches, which has been marked by many beneficial experiences but also by schisms, hostilities and even armed conflicts. Human guilt, lack of love and the frequent abuse of faith and the church for political interests have severely damaged the credibility of the Christian witness.

Ecumenism therefore begins for Christians with the renewal of our hearts and the willingness to repent and change our ways. The ecumenical movement has already helped to spread reconciliation.

It is important to acknowledge the spiritual riches of the different Christian traditions, to learn from one another and so to receive these gifts. For the ecumenical movement to flourish it is particularly necessary to integrate the experiences and expectations of young people and actively encourage their participation.

We commit ourselves

  • to overcome the feeling of self-sufficiency within each church, and to eliminate prejudices; to seek mutual encounters and to be available to help one another;

  • to promote ecumenical openness and co-operation in Christian education, and in theological training, continuing education and research.

4. Acting together

Various forms of shared activity are already ecumenical. Many Christians from different churches live side by side and interact in friendships, in their neighbourhoods, at work and in their families. Couples in interdenominational marriages especially should be supported in experiencing ecumenism in their daily lives.

We recommend that bilateral and multilateral ecumenical bodies be set up and maintained for co-operation at local, regional, national and international levels. At the European level it is necessary to strengthen co-operation between the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) and to hold further European Ecumenical Assemblies. In the event of conflicts between churches, efforts towards mediation and peace should be initiated and/or supported as needed.

We commit ourselves

  • to act together at all levels of church life wherever conditions permit and there are no reasons of faith or overriding expediency mitigating against this;

  • to defend the rights of minorities and to help reduce misunderstandings and prejudices between majority and minority churches in our countries.

5. Praying together

The ecumenical movement lives from our hearing God's word and letting the Holy Spirit work in us and through us. In the power of this grace, many different initiatives now seek, through services of prayer and worship, to deepen the spiritual fellowship among the churches and to pray for the visible unity of Christ's Church. A particularly painful sign of the divisions among many Christian churches is the lack of eucharistic fellowship.

In some churches reservations subsist regarding praying together in an ecumenical context. But we have many hymns and liturgical prayers in common, notably the Lord's Prayer, and ecumenical services have become a widespread practice: all of these are features of our Christian spirituality.

We commit ourselves

  • to pray for one another and for Christian unity;

  • to learn to know and appreciate the worship and other forms of spiritual life practised by other churches;

  • to move towards the goal of eucharistic fellowship.

6. Continuing in dialogue

We belong together in Christ, and this is of fundamental significance in the face of our differing theological and ethical positions. Rather than seeing our diversity as a gift which enriches us, however, we have allowed differences of opinion on doctrine, ethics and church law to lead to separations between churches, with special historical circumstances and different cultural backgrounds often playing a crucial role.

In order to deepen ecumenical fellowship, endeavours to reach a consensus in faith must be continued at all cost. Only in this way can church communion be given a theological foundation. There is no alternative to dialogue.

We commit ourselves

  • to continue in conscientious, intensive dialogue at different levels between our churches, and to examine the question of how official church bodies can receive and implement the findings gained in dialogue;

  • in the event of controversies, particularly when divisions threaten in questions of faith and ethics, to seek dialogue and discuss the issues together in the light of the Gospel.




III.   OUR COMMON RESPONSIBILITY IN EUROPE

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called
children of God" (Matthew 5:9)

7. Participating in the building of Europe

Through the centuries Europe has developed a primarily Christian character in religious and cultural terms. However, Christians have failed to prevent suffering and destruction from being inflicted by Europeans, both within Europe and beyond. We confess our share of responsibility for this guilt and ask God and our fellow human beings for forgiveness.

Our faith helps us to learn from the past, and to make our Christian faith and love for our neighbours a source of hope for morality and ethics, for education and culture, and for political and economic life, in Europe and throughout the world.

The churches support an integration of the European continent. Without common values, unity cannot endure. We are convinced that the spiritual heritage of Christianity constitutes an empowering source of inspiration and enrichment for Europe. On the basis of our Christian faith, we work towards a humane, socially conscious Europe, in which human rights and the basic values of peace, justice, freedom, tolerance, participation and solidarity prevail. We likewise insist on the reverence for life, the value of marriage and the family, the preferential option for the poor, the readiness to forgive, and in all things compassion.

As churches and as international communities we have to counteract the danger of Europe developing into an integrated West and a disintegrated East, and also take account of the North-South divide within Europe. At the same time we must avoid Eurocentricity and heighten Europe's sense of responsibility for the whole of humanity, particularly for the poor all over the world.



We commit ourselves

  • to seek agreement with one another on the substance and goals of our social responsibility, and to represent in concert, as far as possible, the concerns and visions of the churches vis--vis the secular European institutions;

  • to defend basic values against infringements of every kind;

  • to resist any attempt to misuse religion and the church for ethnic or nationalist purposes.

8. Reconciling peoples and cultures

We consider the diversity of our regional, national, cultural and religious traditions to be enriching for Europe. In view of numerous conflicts, the churches are called upon to serve together the cause of reconciliation among peoples and cultures. We know that peace among the churches is also an important prerequisite for this.

Our common endeavours are devoted to evaluating, and helping to resolve, political and social issues in the spirit of the Gospel. Because we value the person and dignity of every individual as made in the image of God, we defend the absolutely equal value of all human beings. As churches we intend to join forces in promoting the process of democratisation in Europe. We commit ourselves to work for structures of peace, based on the non-violent resolution of conflicts. We condemn any form of violence against the human person, particularly against women and children.

Reconciliation involves promoting social justice within and among all peoples; above all, this means closing the gap between rich and poor and overcoming unemployment. Together we will do our part towards giving migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers a humane reception in Europe.

We commit ourselves

  • to counteract any form of nationalism which leads to the oppression of other peoples and national minorities;

  • to strengthen the position and equal rights of women in all areas of life, and to foster partnership in church and society between women and men.

9. Safeguarding the creation

Believing in the love of the Creator God, we give thanks for the gift of creation and the great value and beauty of nature. However, we are appalled to see natural resources being exploited without regard for their intrinsic value or consideration of their limits, and without regard for the well-being of future generations.

Together we want to help create sustainable living conditions for the whole of creation. It is our responsibility before God to put into effect common criteria for distinguishing between what human beings are scientifically and technologically capable of doing and what, ethically speaking, they should not do.

We recommend the introduction into European churches of an Ecumenical Day of Prayer for the Preservation of Creation.

We commit ourselves

  • to strive to adopt a lifestyle free of consumerism and a quality of life informed by accountability and sustainability;

  • to support church environmental organisations and ecumenical networks in their efforts for the safeguarding of creation.

10. Strengthening community with Judaism

We are bound up in a unique community with the people Israel, the people of the Covenant which God has never terminated. Our faith teaches us that our Jewish sisters and brothers "are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11.28-29). And "to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah" (Rom 9.4-5).

We deplore and condemn all manifestations of anti-Semitism, all outbreaks of hatred and persecutions. We ask God for forgiveness for anti-Jewish attitudes among Christians, and we ask our Jewish sisters and brothers for reconciliation.

It is urgently necessary, in the worship and teaching, doctrine and life of our churches, to raise awareness of the deep bond existing between the Christian faith and Judaism, and to support Christian-Jewish co-operation.

We commit ourselves

  • to oppose all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in the church and in society;

  • to seek and intensify dialogue with our Jewish sisters and brothers at all levels.

11.Cultivating relations with Islam

Muslims have lived in Europe for centuries. In some European countries they constitute strong minorities. While there have been plenty of good contacts and neighbourly relations between Muslims and Christians, and this remains the case, there are still strong reservations and prejudices on both sides. These are rooted in painful experiences throughout history and in the recent past.

We would like to intensify encounters between Christians and Muslims and enhance Christian-Islamic dialogue at all levels. We recommend, in particular, speaking with one another about our faith in one God, and clarifying ideas on human rights.

We commit ourselves

  • to conduct ourselves towards Muslims with respect;

  • to work together with Muslims on matters of common concern.

12. Encountering other religions and world views

The plurality of religious and non-confessional beliefs and ways of life has become a feature of European culture. Eastern religions and new religious communities are spreading and also attracting the interest of many Christians. In addition, growing numbers of people reject the Christian faith, are indifferent to it or have other philosophies of life.

We want to take seriously the critical questions of others, and try together to conduct fair discussions with them. Yet a distinction must be made between the communities with which dialogues and encounters are to be sought, and those which should be warned against from the Christian standpoint.

We commit ourselves

  • to recognise the freedom of religion and conscience of these individuals and communities and to defend their right to practise their faith or convictions, whether singly or in groups, privately or publicly, in the context of rights applicable to all;

  • to be open to dialogue with all persons of good will, to pursue with them matters of common concern, and to bring a witness of our Christian faith to them.



* * * * * * * *

Jesus Christ, the Lord of the one Church, is our greatest hope of reconciliation and peace. In his name we intend to continue on our common path in Europe. We pray for God's guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit.

"May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Rom 15:13)




As Presidents of the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, we commend this Charta Oecumenica as a Basic Text to all the churches and Bishops' Conferences in Europe, to be adopted and adapted in each of their local contexts.

With this commendation we hereby sign the Charta Oecumenica, on the occasion of the European Ecumenical Encounter, on the first Sunday after the common celebration of Easter in the year 2001.

Strasbourg, 22 April 2001

signature of Metropolitan Jérémiesignature of Cardinal Vlk

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