Building Bridges in Prague

Press Report

A leading Roman Catholic theologians, Dr. Kilian McDonnell, described Prague '97 as "historic" and "a watershed." The consultation was held (September 10-13 1997) in Prague in the Czech Republic, and was attended by over 300 Christian leaders from Eastern and Western Europe, along with 30 joining them from other parts of the world. They came from many different Churches and Christian communities, and from most of the countries of Europe, including Albania, the Ukraine and the Baltic States. The meetings were sponsored by ICCOWE (International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelization) and ECC (European Charismatic Consultation), ecumenical bodies committed to Renewal in the Holy Spirit, Christian Unity and Evangelization.

Meetings took place in the Archbishop's Seminary in Prague, and Cardinal Miloslav Vlf, who is President of the European Bishop's Conference, greeted the assembly. Other guests included observers from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, and the Conference of European Churches.

Plenary meetings took place during the day, and group discussions in the afternoons. Running parallel to the plenary meetings was a theological consultation attended by 70 theologians. Speakers at the plenary meetings included Father Michael Harper (Orthodox), Bishop Bronislaw Dembowski (Roman Catholic), Giovanni Traettino (Pentecostal) and Kalevi Lehtinen (Lutheran). Papers were given in the theological meetings by Bishop Kallistos of Dioklea (Orthodox), Prof Mel Robeck (Pentecostal), Father Kilian McDonnell (Roman Catholic), Dr. Martein Parmentier (Old Catholic) and others. There were also three plenary theological lectures in the afternoons, given by Prof Jan Milic Lochman (Czech Brethren), Dr. Walter Hollenweger (Reformed) and Dr. Miroslav Volf (Reformed).

The speaker on the opening evening was Father Daniel-Ange (Roman Catholic). The theme of the conference was "Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers" - in the new European context of a largely post-communist situation. Many new relationships were formed between East and West, and sometimes reconciliation took place on the spot during meetings, as for instance between the Russians and the American delegates. People asked forgiveness for the bitterness and antagonism of the past. On one evening, led by Anders-Peter Sjodim (Lutheran), there was a special emphasis on building bridges between the generations. The final evening was led by a pioneer of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the USA, Dr. Kevin Ranaghan.

The worship was led by Prof Matteo Calisi, with his music group from Italy. He has for several years led the worship at the annual Rimini conferences, attended by over 40,000 people. There was a Bible study each morning; these were given by Peter Dippl (Pentecostal), Ove Conrad Hanssen (Lutheran) and Kim Catherine-Marie Kollins (Roman Catholic). The Roman Catholic had their Eucharist each morning, and on the Saturday morning there was an Orthodox service for the blessing of bread, wine and oil. All the members of the conference received blessed bread and were anointed with holy oil. The choir at this service came from the Lord's Army, an Orthodox lay movement from Romania.

One of the Orthodox priests present spoke of it as "the best conference I have ever attended." A Russian wrote, "it was exciting, the Spirit of the Lord dwelt among us. I came home so refreshed spiritually." A participant from the UK commented: "The most European and the most ecumenical conference I've been to." Anointed pointed out that "above all it was such a privilege to meet so many, individually, and hear about their lives - we felt we were walking on holy ground."