Ambassadors of reconciliation and signs of hope. Together for Europe celebrated its anniversary in the Augsburg city hall
300 members from 55 Christian communities and movements from various churches and from 25 European countries were gathered this Saturday to celebrate several important anniversaries: 30 years ago the Berlin Wall fell and a new era of encounter between East and West began for Europe. 20 years ago the ‘Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification’ was signed by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. On the same day in the afternoon, the first group of leaders from various catholic, evangelical and free church backgrounds came together in Ottmaring – this was when the network Together for Europe was born. Those three events were closely linked for the people present and shaped the ‘pioneering spirit’ of the initiative.
‘You are ambassadors of reconciliation’, encouraged Lutheran Bishop, Ret., Christian Krause. He had co-signed the ‘Joint Declaration’ in 1999 as the then President of the Lutheran World Federation. As one of the witnesses at the time he recalled the many encouraging steps that have been taken in ecumenism through the declaration and since it was made. In the current climate of increasing scepticism of Europe and political polarization, it is precisely this experience of reconciled diversity of the movements and spiritual communities that is needed.
Bertram Meier, the current diocesan administrator in Augsburg, emphasised in the conversation with his Evangelical colleague Regional Bishop Axel Piper the importance of this ability to seek reconciliation. ‘Unity in diversity is also a challenge within the church. It’s about learning to understand each other, not just from the mind, but also from the heart.’ Piper confirmed that it is exactly this effort that also shapes the ecumenical relations in Augsburg: ‘But we must remain curious towards each other, we have to be interested in each other, because we can learn a lot from each other!’
Gerhard Pross, moderator of the ecumenical network, outlined perspectives for the future: it would be important to resist the temptation to develop new organizational structures, but instead to deepen the subject of reconciliation. ‘In times of divergence and tendencies towards demarcation we want to be a prophetic sign for a credible togetherness in Europe.’
In the afternoon, the Czech Senator Pavel Fischer made an important contribution to the socio- political dimension of Together for Europe. He described a current picture of the commitment to freedom and human dignity in the context of a strongly media-influenced society in Europe. He urged his audience to become active citizens who have the courage to stand up for others, for the weak, to speak out for justice.
At the end of the day, Father Heinrich Walter from the Schoenstatt Movement concluded: ‘Europe needs this positive spirit, because there are already enough messengers of doom!’
Afterwards, the group made its way from the city hall to the Protestant church of St. Anna, where in 1999 the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification had been signed. There the day ended with ecumenical prayer and a candlelight procession. On the square in front of the church, the anniversary celebrations were concluded with songs and a blessing.