Ecumenical Chair

Sister Churches more than ever

di Michele Zanzucchi

Three eminent people of the 20th-century ecumenism – Pope Paul VI, Patriarch Athenagoras and Chiara Lubich – still speak to us today that the prophecy of unity expressed by them leads the Churches to maintain a communion that is ever more actual.

On May 25th and 26th, the International Ecumenical Chair “Patriarch Athenagoras – Chiara Lubich” organized a Symposium entitled “Pope Paul VI, Patriarch Athenagoras, Chiara Lubich: the prophecy of unity between Sister Churches” in Loppiano (Figline e Incisa Valdarno, Florence) and online. A word of hope came to light in the rough ecumenic journey of the last decades.

The Chair was established in synergy with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople fifty years after the first meeting between the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras and the founder of the Focolare Movement Chiara Lubich (13 June 1967). It is currently co-chaired by His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos Vgenopoulos and Prof. Msgr. Piero Coda. The mission of the Chair- which was founded with the crucial contribution of the dear departed Metropolitan Gennadios Zervos, Orthodox Archbishop of Italy and Malta- is exploring the theological significance, studying the historical stages and examining the existential, cultural and social implications of the ecumenical journey towards the full and visible unity of the Church through the mutual exchange of spiritual, liturgical, theological, cultural and artistic riches of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

Prof. Coda, a short evaluation of the symposium.
The third edition of the study sessions of the Chair was extremely successful thanks to the face-to-face and online mixed modality. We reached 1,000 views. But most importantly, it has been a special edition. Metropolitan Gennadios Zervos used to consider such Chair an opportunity to breathe new life into the prophetic experience of Patriarch Athenagoras, Pope Paul VI and Chiara Lubich. Following Metropolitan Gennadios Zervos’s death, this edition focused on the ecumenical teaching rich in theological consequences that are the result of such testimony. We could experience an event of communion where- as one can read in the Book of Sirach- “raised up the prophecies which the former prophets spoke in thy name”. These three greats of ecumenism are still absolutely topical, especially for the method of the encounter they adopted: getting to full unity in the mutual welcome creating in mutual love the shared space where the Lord enlightens the hearts on the road to Emmaus.

This enables us to understand what divides us without giving up but- so to speak- burning it in the fire of love. The warm greetings from Patriarch Bartholomew, the new Metropolitan of Italy Polycarpos and the President of the Focolare Movement Maria Margaret Karram, the constant presence of the Metropolitan Maximos Vgenopoulos co-director of the Chair, the contributions by young orthodox theologians like Professor Augustinos Bairactaris from Crete, Professor Dimitrios Keramidas of Rome and by the President of the Institute Paolo VI Don Angelo Maffeis and by Sandra Ferreira of the Centro Uno of the Focolare Movement, the good wishes from Don Giuliano Savina, Director of the national Office for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue on behalf of CEI, the lively dialogue between all of them proved that it is possible to breathe new life into the prophecy of these three great “dreamers” of unity to achieve the ultimate goal of the ecumenical journey with the method they adopted themselves.

Some people turn up their noses at the expression “Sister Churches”…
Differently, during the Symposium everyone agreed on relaunching this expression used by both Paul VI and Athenagoras to refer to the privileged relations of love between Rome and Constantinople. This does not mean overlooking the ecclesiology of communion between local Churches in one Church. This means recognizing those “families of ecclesial communities” which are the Roman Catholic Church and the byzantine orthodox Churches. They indeed have different traditions and styles. Yet, they are called to appreciate and love each other in equal dignity according to the evangelical spirit- as already mentioned- of a “communion of communions”. Therefore, such expression is still a valid way to describe the journey to achieve full communion, which has been started by the two hearts of the one Church, the sisters Western and Eastern Churches and to look at possible future developments in line with the Gospel and the ecclesiastical Tradition.

What is the point of such chair in the current ecumenism then?
It aims at breathing new life into the great prophecy of the historic meeting between Athenagoras and Chiara Lubich. It shows that the Sophia University Institute is a privileged place where the fruits of unity that have been reached so far are appreciated and guarded as a valuable legacy. This legacy must be given new life through learning but also with an ongoing dialogue in the light of mutual love that welcomes the presence of Jesus and its Spirit among the disciples. This is a precious teaching for the current ecumenism: when “dialogue in love” launched by Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in line with Vatican II became “dialogue in truth” started in 1980 by John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios with the creation of the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue. Over the last 40 years, the Commission has been doing an extraordinary work as shown by the Symposium that can be fully enhanced and evolved when these two types of dialogue are closely linked. It is essential that we develop and keep this methodological intelligence alive in order to experience that mutual love is a privileged tool to reduce theological divergences. This is Sophia’s specific contribution. This time I realized that this is no longer a charitable wish. It is rather a widely shared feasible platform of dialogue that can be developed and applied.