WCC FEATURE: Ecumenism is a way of life
- World Council of Churches - Feature
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release - 03/06/2009 16:02:01
ECUMENISM IS A WAY OF LIFE
By Sara Speicher (*)
Free photos available, see below
Sister Pina Sandu says that in her Orthodox monastery, in the mountains of
Romania, they practise "touristic spirituality".
With a resort built up around the monastery, "like it or not" the tourists
"hear the bells, hear the services three times a day. They hear, they feel,
they know that something is happening." As a result, their curiosity leads
them into the yard and into the church - "small, sure steps towards
Sister Pina and five other sisters - two each from Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
and Protestant orders - are providing a similar subtle but radical witness
at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey outside of Geneva, Switzerland, for
students and visitors alike.
The sisters live together, coordinate the worship and prayer life at the
Ecumenical Institute, participate in classes - and embody a sense of
"ecumenical spirituality" in daily life.
Their presence alone, in their striking habits, is noticeable to all who use
the Institute for meetings and events. Visitors come from church or
development groups to secular organizations like Rolex or the regional Swiss
television company, all of whom are invited to take part in the prayer life
at the Institute.
But their main role over their year at Bossey is to provide pastoral support
for the students. Rev. Emmanuel Twahirwa, a graduate student coming from the
Anglican Church in Rwanda, appreciates their worship facilitation.
"When you come, you find yourself lost in academic study, you may end up
forgetting your spiritual life," he says. "We have to balance the two."
Even more, he appreciates their presence: "Sisters from different
denominations, living together - it is important for us to learn from them."
Dealing with the tensions generated in the classroom is one way the sisters
model ecumenical relationships. Sister Pina describes how after heated
discussions, they would walk from the classroom to the kitchen for a meal,
and the sisters would smile and talk.
"It is a very delicate way of knowing which is the border between academic
discussion and spiritual relationship or friendship," she emphasizes. "I
hear about Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants. It is totally different when I
meet a Catholic, when I meet a Protestant.. The person makes me love what
the person does."
The sisters themselves were uncertain how it would work living together.
Sister Sperancia Mulashani Thadeo, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
Tanzania, reflected that she had met other Roman Catholic sisters but "could
not imagine" how it would work living with them. "I thought perhaps they
would stay in other parts," she says ruefully.
The reality she found was that it is possible to live together, and the
"happiest of times is sharing about our life, what we are doing and our
"For us," says Ivy Athipozhiyil, a Dominican sister from India, "ecumenical
spirituality is living together. We are sharing everything, laughing. This
we offer, without knowing, to others, like the students. For them it is a
Their tangible witness is noticed not just by the students.
Sister Ivy recalls overhearing a member of the Joint Working Group between
the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, who were
meeting at Bossey. "One bishop looked at us walking together, and he said
[to another participant], 'we are talking, talking, talking - and there -
"What I have realized is that when we talk about unity, it doesn't mean to
change somebody's faith," states Deaconess Agnes Simbo Lema, from the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. "It means to sit together, to
share, to love each other and to accept each other."
Maria Elena Romero Molina, a Missionary Dominican sister from Guatemala,
states it most simply, "Ecumenism is not a concept. It is a way of life."
Sister Pina reflects, "The motto of the life and work commission, back then,
was doctrine divides, service unites."
Now, she states, "I could say doctrine divides, spirituality unites."
(*) Sara Speicher is a freelance writer and former coordinator of the World
Council of Churches Public Information Team.
More on ecumenical spirituality:
Ecumenical Institute Bossey:
Photo gallery (high resolution versions available upon
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Additional information:Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and
service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches
founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox,
Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in
over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church
in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.