A journal of academic theology

December 2002 editorial

Between correcting the first and second set of publishers galleys for this December issue of the journal,  I had the good fortune to participate in an international conference devoted to the theme The Holy Spirit and Ecumenism, sponsored by the Cardinal Suenens Center of John Carroll University, Cleveland, and held at the Monastery of Bose, Italy, October 14-20.  The moving experience was well worth juggling my teaching schedule and undergoing the challenges of intercontinental plane travel nowadays. Sharing even briefly the life of the brothers and sisters of that ecumenical monastery at Bose, and interacting with twenty visiting scholars gathered from Europe, North America, and South Africa, who represented a cross section of Christian communities: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, and Quaker, enriched our reflections on how the Holy Spirit during these last decades has been moving the churches to draw closer to one another not merely by consensus statements but by new initiatives.

The monastery terrain is located in a fertile valley before the foothills of the Alps in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. The founder and prior of the monastery, Brother Enzo Bianchi, while still an economics student at the University of Turin, explored with other Christians how the unity of the divided Church might be realized. In 1965, as the Second Vatican Council was closing, he moved to Bose, living alone at first but soon joined by other men and women who wished to follow the traditions of monastic life in an ecumenical context. The present community (almost equally divided between men and women) now numbers some 70 members from several countries with a remarkably young median age of 38. Devoted to prayer and work, and committed to celibacy, poverty, and obedience to the gospel, the brothers and sisters gather three times a day to sing the Liturgy of the Hours and, on Sundays and major feasts, to celebrate the Eucharist. Their novitiate extends over four years and is followed by another three years before final profession. Members share the Rule of the Bose Community.  They undertake a variety of tasks such as garden farming, writing, translating, and publishing, painting icons, making furniture, preserving fruit and herbs for sale, and hosting conferences.  To facilitate their study and research of the Bible and the monastic traditions they invite experts to come there to offer courses on the history of spirituality and monasticism. One of their special charisms is hospitality. Community members, especially those who also speak French or English, share their meals with the visitors in small refectories where the lively table conversation includes the joys, hopes, sorrows, and challenges facing the Church and world. It is a site I recommend visiting at least their Website (http://www-1.monasterodibose.it)for insights and news of its publishing house named Qqajn (after the Hebrew word for the tree under which Jonah rested from the heat of the day). This brief sojourn at Bose, especially for those of us had been reeling from news of infidelities, mismanagement, and rumors of wars, was an uplifting gift.

The conference itself devoted to The Holy Spirit and Ecumenism had been carefully organized by Professor Doris Donnelly, Director of the Cardinal Suenens Institute, and generously funded by a gift from Margaret F. Grace. Most of the participants had shared their lengthy papers weeks in advance via e-mail so there was considerable time for discussion and exchange under the chairmanship of the veteran ecumenist from the Church of England Mary Tanner. Two cardinals well known for their devotion to promoting Christian renewal and unity were present: Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels (the successor to the late Cardinal Suenens) and Cardinal Walter Kasper, prefect of the Vaticans Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Orthodox Church was notably represented by John Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon, and Pre Boris Bobrinskoy of the Institut Saint Serge in Paris. All of the participants have been professionally involved in the pursuit of Christian unity. Especially gratifying were the voices of ecclesial communities often underrepresented, the Free Churches, the Pentecostals, and the Quakers. The mood was consistently and surprisingly optimistic. We gratefully acknowledged the measure of communion that is already enjoyed in the Church as a result of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, while recognizing that the churches have grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit. Our prayers and earnest hopes were that all Christians would be led to cooperate with the Giver of Life, to pursue the truth through discernment, to engage in mission–as one–in the power of the Holy Spirit, to rejoice in the holiness given to the Church as we work toward its further purification, all the while joining creation in its groaning for Gods justice and peace. Those of us who shared those days look forward to publishing our papers under the sponsorship of the Leuven publishing house, Peeters. Meanwhile we have placed on the Website of the Cardinal Suenens Center, (http://www.suenens.org), a modest open letter to the Christian community briefly summarizing our hopes for Christian unity.

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