We treasure the emphasis upon Christian Unity in the ministry and vision of Sant’ Egidio: in prayer, in friendship with the poor and in service for peace. This appreciation comes, as we have to confess that unity has not been a primary mark on the history of our churches. It took two World Wars to give birth to a significant movement towards Christian unity, and we are still striving to discover and express this unity in worship and service, in liturgy and diakonia.
Today we ask what Christian unity implies in a divided world. Pope Francis describes the current global situation as the beginning of a “World War III”: It is not fought between countries around the globe, but as a “piecemeal war” in many areas and inside several countries. In this “piecemeal war” religious fervour is also a key element. In the Middle East Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities are being killed and suffer under the terror of IS. But there are also countries where minority Christian groups suffer and are discriminated by majority Christians. It is urgent that we address “the role of Christian unity in a divided world.”
If we go to the New Testament, unity is the gift of God to His Church and rooted in the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Paul admonishes the Ephesians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. The apostle stresses that there is one body, one Lord, one hope, one baptism, and he ends his exhortation with a doxology to the “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4, 3-6).
At Pentecost the gift of the Spirit initiated the reversal of the divisions from the Tower of Babel. Christian unity does not only concern the inner life of churches and between churches, but our common call to be an instrument of hope and unity for mankind. The one God, whom we confess, is the Father of all.
This Sant’ Egidio-conference in Tirana is a sign of the mentioned growth in Christian unity since World War II. It is rooted in the renewal of the Second Vatican Council and was inspired by the late Pope John Paul the II. Throughout the years this conference has also engaged representatives of other religions and traditions in our common search for peace and unity.
Healing in a Broken World
The ecumenical and missionary conference Edinburgh 2010 gathered Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Charismatic Christians from around the globe.The Common Call from theconference stated inter alia: “We are called to be communities of compassion and healing … (and) a new zeal for justice, peace and the protection of the environment.”
In Edinburgh one of the speakers was Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He said: “Near and far, our world is broken in infinite ways. And yet, Christians are bearers of the reconciling and healing power of the Spirit.” In his conclusion he encouraged boldness “to be converted to the One who still calls us friends. If we become friends ourselves and walk the ecumenical miles of hope together, the Spirit of Christ will bring life to his people and mission will thrive and blossom, until ‘all things are restored in Christ and in Him humankind can compose one family and one people’ (Ad gentes 1).”
These words eloquently express the challenge to the unity we seek. It is not a unity only for the sake of our ecclesial relations, but a call to a reconciling and healing ministry in a broken world. Christ was also broken, but with his brokenness - his cross and resurrection – reconciliation and healing was given to our world. In his footsteps we are unitedand may bring reconciliation, healing and hope in a divided world.
I am a Lutheran and a Norwegian. How do we in our church and in our country experience global divisions and conflicts, and how do we see and practice Christian unity in our society? Let me briefly mention three current developments.
Fragmentation, integration and unity
In recent years our immigrant community has increased significantly, with a rather equal share of Muslims and Christians among them. Few Christian immigrants are Lutheran, and Oslo now has more than 80 migrant churches of different confessions, cultures and languages. This is of course a challenge to Christian unity, but together we prefer to see it, not as a problem, but as enriching the Christian presence in our country. In Oslo, 30 of our churches today also host Christian migrant congregations. This cooperation and expression of unity represent a significant contribution to overcoming cultural and social divisions in our local communities.
For the same reason we try to develop outreach and dialogue with Muslims and Muslim communities in our capital, and we try to do it together. In 2011 a traumatic massacre killed 77 persons, most of them young people. The Norwegian terrorist wanted to attack coexistence between Christians and Muslims, to cause conflict and create division. The effect, however, was the opposite and caused a coming together of Christians and Muslims on all levels of society. Following the terrorist attack on Jews in Paris and on the Synagogue in Copenhagen in January this year, young Muslims in our capital initiated a demonstration, calling our citizens to join them in staging a protective circle around the synagogue in Oslo. I mention this to underline that we as Christians do not stand alone in trying to bring down barriers and divisions in today’s world.
Europe’s refugee crisis
In just these days new waves of refugeesfrom Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries are also reaching Norway after travelling through Europe. Our authorities have earlier put strong restrictions on immigration, and our churches have together responded withstrong appeals to our Government for a more humane asylum policy.The current influx of refugees in unprecedented numbers has, however, also changed the situation in Norway dramatically.
In line with the call from the Conference of European Churches,
we have together protested against the building of visible and invisible barriers for those seeking refuge on European soil. But protest is not enough, and we realize that drastic measures are needed to meet the new crisis. Regular Norwegians have responded voluntarily by providing food for the refugees, and our authorities have turned to humanitarian organisations to assist by providing lodging and aid to relieve the continued suffering of the refugees. Just now, this is our situation, and we are struggling together to find immediate ways to uphold the human dignity of both the refugees and our society.
In our Northern country we learn from churches in Southern Europe and from Sant’ Egidio’s emphasis upon hospitality and friendship with the poor. Together we urgently need to heed the words of the New Testament: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13,2).
Climate Change, riches and poverty
In our country we also face the global threat to climate and environment. Close to the arctic region, we are particularly concerned about the deterioration of the arctic climate with its global consequences. We all belong to the first generation in history facing a situation where the future of the earth is at stake – the future of “our common home”, with the expression of Pope Francis.
As Lutherans in Norway we have welcomed the Encyclica “Laudato si’” of Pope Francis “ as an expression of a common Christian response. We appreciate the breadth and depth in its analysis of the human roots of the crisis and his outline of a holistic ecology.
We hear his call for “conversion” and take to heart his pastoral reflections on ecological education and spirituality.
In our country we have established an ecumenical platform for climate and environment, and Christian voices are often heard in public debate and political discourse. In line with the Encyclica, we are united on two basic levels:
- As churches together, we want to uphold that water, soil, air and every creature are God´s creation and gift to us, calling us to adoration and sound stewardship.
- As churches together in word and action we want to take seriously that the current climate development particularly hurts the poor and increases their suffering. The gap between this world´s rich and poor can only be overcome by a responsible and sustainable stewardship of God´s gifts to us in His creation.
What is the role of Christian unity in a divided world? In the Book of Revelation there is a beautiful picture of the earth that God will make new. It has a river with water of life and a tree of life. It says
“And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22,2) Until Christ will return, we believe that the cross of Christ is now this tree of life in our midst. In our tormented world we are called to share the leaves and the fruits of this tree for the healing of the nations. That is why we need to develop the dialogue with people of other faiths, to practice hospitality and friendship in welcoming refugees, and to confront the climate challenge as churches together in hope and charity, in word and action.