WCC and RCC to Hold Ecumenical Conference

The Executive Committee of the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church will open its annual meeting in Antelias, Lebanon, March 4, 2004. Throughout the two day conference, the two Christian bodies, representing over a billion believers in the world, will identify the emerging priorities in the continuing effort to strengthen their ecumenical relationship.

A subsequent annual plenary meeting is scheduled for May 6-13 in Kolympari-Chania, Greece, to tackle further issues on ecumenism and unity.

The JWG was initiated in May 1965, at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, near Geneva. Since then, the group issued several publications, 1982 Lima document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM). The publication marked the first time the Catholic Church was given an official response to an ecumenical document from the WCC.

The JWG still follows the three perspectives?on the common ground?for relations between the two groups as identified in their fourth report, penned in 1975

1. The Triune God "gathers together the people of the New Covenant as a communion of unity in faith, hope and love". This communion continues to exist, but because of Christian divisions, it is a "real but imperfect" communion. The ecumenical movement -- "the restoration of the unity of all Christians" -- is "the common rediscovery of that existing reality and equally the common efforts to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of perfect ecclesial communion". This vision of "real and full communion" is "far from being fulfilled, and even its concrete shape cannot yet be fully described, but it has already become part of the life of the churches". In fact, "work for the unity of the Church is... an inescapable reality. It is not a luxury which can be left aside, nor a task which can be handed to specialists but rather a constitutive dimension of the life of the Church at all levels and of the life of Christians themselves".

2. The gift of communion calls for the response of common witness to Christ in the world, "wherever the partial communion in faith and life, as it exists among the churches, makes it possible... Mission without unity lacks the perspective of the Body of Christ, and unity without mission is not a living reality."

3. This real but imperfect communion in today's world calls for a shared commitment to the renewal of Christians and of the churches, as they together engage "to discern and interpret the signs of the times" and "to struggle for justice, freedom and community" and for a more human society.