Ecumenism at the assumption
The passion for unity was deeply rooted in Emmanuel d’Alzon. His great idea was to put an end to the "Photian Schism" and, to that end, he sent missionaries to the Christian East. D’Alzon saw the need for a renewal of the Eastern tradition which he considered to be weakened spiritually and ecclesiastically. His disciples progressively discovered the treasures of the Oriental Churches and became experts of its rich tradition. Let us preserve the love for unity that motivated Emmanuel d’Alzon and that must again inspire us.
It is no longer a question "of putting an end to the schism" in the spirit of the XIXth century; rather it is clearly one of undertaking a work of reconciliation while practicing an ecclesiology of communion. We are convinced that "dialogue is a path to the Kingdom", as Pope JohnPaul II used to say. In order to promote this dialogue, it is necessary to come to know the various Christian confessions and religious traditions. We must come to know Orthodoxy because one comes to love that which one knows. We are probably in a kairos, a favorable moment, to contribute to this coming together with the firm desire of Benedict XVI and the good dispositions of the present generation of major patriarchs. The prospect of a pan-Orthodox council is also a positive factor in the renewal of the dialogue. Bolstered by clear and forceful Chapter decisions, the Assumption can play its role in all humility. We must give top priority to the Orthodox Church. Let us not be naïve; we know that our role will be very delicate, but we have the capacity of witnessing to our love for the Oriental tradition and to our fidelity to the Church of Rome, that all might breathe with both lungs of the Church.
I encourage each of the brothers and sisters of the Near Eastern Mission to forge fraternal ties with the Orthodox and move forward in the discovery of their tradition. Let us not throw up our hands; let us always be beings of dialogue and exchange. Why not form spiritual fraternities by creating prayer groups? Why not pursue the experience of our brothers of Plovdiv who organize pilgrimages bringing together Catholics and Orthodox? I am sure that other initiatives can be found. The assumption must mobilize itself for the cause of unity. The Orthodox Churches are those with whom we have the greatest theological proximity. Let us not fear to approach them. The Assumptionist of 2012 must enter into the familiar company of the Oriental tradition. Today the means of social communication have never been so widespread and accessible; let us use them to enrich ourselves. To understand better the Oriental tradition and the churches it comprises must be the motto of the entire congregation.
And the other Churches?
Orthodoxy remains the clearly identified priority because it is in the countries of the Orthodox tradition that we are more clearly invested, but the majority of the Congregation is confronted on a daily basis by the Churches descended from Protestantism. Daily Europe, Africa, North and South America meet Protestants belonging to multiple denominations: from the Reformed to the Lutheran and even to the evangelical Baptist and Pentecostal Churches. To pursue our desire for unity, it is advisable that we also have knowledge of these ecclesial realities that are often dynamic. Dialogue is not always easy with the new churches, but with humility and patience approach is possible. I would like young Assumptionists to invest in the study of Protestant theology. We can continue the work of a George Tavard by becoming interested in Anglicanism, in the Episcopalian or Methodist Churches. We can follow the example of a Daniel Olivier by studying Luther. Still other fields of study are possible….. We cannot lose interest in the other churches; ignorance would render us guilty and would lead us to forget our own history. I encourage young religious to consider a deep appreciation of the theology of the Protestant traditions. It would not be time lost. Dialogue with Protestantism would also have the advantage of preparing those who will commit themselves to the dialogue with Orthodoxy.
This also is to be maintained wherever possible. Turkey and Israel are countries where the majority of the inhabitants belong either to Islam or to Judaism. An Assumptionist must be capable of initiating a dialogue at the level of daily living, one that is not situated at the theological level but in the ordinary relationships with people. More and more, our globalized world exposes us to other religions and what we have experienced in the Near Eastern Mission should lead us to be prepared to live like Christians in a world characterized by religious diversity. More and more, Islam is becoming a massive presence in Europe and in Africa. We are ill-prepared for this dialogue because the Assumption has lost its foundations in North Africa and we are hardly present in countries of Moslem tradition. Nevertheless, we can commit ourselves to Islamic studies. I have asked the Province of Africa to train brothers in this domain. Other provinces could contribute to this effort as well. The Judaism that we meet in Israel is not known well at all. It would be good to expand our knowledge of this religion to which Christians owe so much. Lastly, our arrival in Asia puts us in relationship with Buddhist currents. In Vietnam and in Korea we must take care to develop good relationships with the followers of this religious tradition. To gain knowledge we must also study. The Near Eastern Mission is a reality with any number of contrasts. It reminds us that we face fragility everywhere and that it is up to us to reveal our love for the Church in the midst of the current hardships. We don’t need heroes to work in this Mission, but we do need men of conviction and of faith. Too often today we hold a negative view of the success of ecumenism. We think, sometimes justly so, that dialogue is spinning its wheels and that we are no longer making progress. It is true that the years immediately following Vatican II were rich in this progress and that today we are in a phase where it is much less spectacular.
Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that there is work to be done and that the assumption must contribute as best it can. It is in recovering the courage to act that we will break the spiral of pessimism. We are not condemned to inaction. I said earlier that we should learn to grow close to the various Churches that are near to us; let us develop an interest in theological dialogue by reading good works like those of the Groupe des Dombes for the French-speaking or by consulting well-known English-speaking web sites; let us take up anew the idea of a spiritual ecumenism by participating in prayer groups for unity. I want to give a special word of encouragement to our university in Worcester that has recently given new life to the Ecumenical Institute, a structure that encourages dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. Resignation is the worst of messages that we can give our contemporaries. In recent years we haven’t ceased saying or writing that “the Assumptionist is a man of communion". It is our ecclesial responsibility to advance the cause of unity. Our community life, in the first place, must embody this thirst for unity and respect for the other. Our apostolates must reflect the love of dialogue and exchange. The straightforward and loyal collaboration with our Oblate Sisters is also a sign of communion. Our spirituality must be marked by the call of the Acts of the Apostles and by Saint Augustine to be "of one heart and one soul intent on God ".
Letter of the Superior General father Benoit GRIERE n° 1