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The beginning of a long journey

· The founding of the ecumenical Council of Churches seventy years ago in Amsterdam ·

“Man’s Disorder and God’s Design” -- this was the theme chosen to celebrate the founding of the World Council of Churches that began on 22 August 1948 in Amsterdam. It opened with a ceremony presided over by Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Francis Fisher, in the presence of more than three thousand Christian faithful. Among the faithful, there were 450 delegates representing the 147 Churches who had accepted the invitation to create a space in which to pray and reflect upon visible unity of Christians. The goal was to seek a means by which to build this unity, together, with which to overcome the scandal of division and to make the proclamation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit more effective.

The process, which came to its conclusion in Amsterdam, had behind it years of meetings and projects that had involved Christians from many different traditions, especially since the end of the nineteenth century, when a number of initiatives emerged in various forms and different contexts. There was a need to come up with a new approach to the issue of division between Christians, in order to overcome the views that impeded not only sharing in witnessing but also, more simply speaking, dialogue between Christians, at least on an official level. In this way, the season of that contemporary ecumenical movement began, in which--along with the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910), where the first discussions took place regarding the necessity of promoting the unity of Christians in the missionary field--while considering the “pre-history” of the World Council of Churches, the figure of the Swedish Lutheran Archbishop Nathan Söderblom must be remembered. It was Archbishop Söderblom who proposed the creation of an ecumenical assembly of Churches, universal, in which Christians’ priority for peace could be expressed, in a single voice. This proposal was to become a point of reference for those who, although holding different points of view, desired to create an institution in which the different souls of the contemporary ecumenical movement would find a home to support their journey towards unity. Until then, this objective was sought within restricted settings within individual Churches, making it difficult to establish itself as a priority in theological reflection and daily witness.

Riccardo Burigana

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