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This treasure in earthen vessels

The innovative manual of ecumenism by Teresa Francesca Rossi

In completing the form accompanying the interview with Sara Butler of the International Theological Commission ("women church world" n. 10), I came across the names of two working groups which the American theologian had been a member of: the International Anglican-Catholic Commission and the International Conversation between Catholics and Baptists. The difference intrigued me a good deal, and it took only a phone call to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to unravel for me the riddle. A few months later, and I would be more closely acquainted with the matter thanks to a rich, thick manual dedicated to ecumenism.

It is using a passage from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians - "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians, 4, 7) – that Teresa Francesca Rossi, Professor of Ecumenical Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, begins to introduce the theme and spirit of her Manual of ecumenism (Editrice Queriniana, 2012). "A Bible verse that forcefully captures the divine-human dynamism of the announcement of salvation. The treasure is the reality of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, which opens to reconciliation with the Father, the vessels are those who wish to announce this good news to the world, they are the followers of Christ down through the centuries, Christians, now separated. The vases are made of clay: malleable, able to take the shape that is best tailored to the announcement (...) but at the same time they are fragile, they can break, leaving the treasure, still intact in its preciousness, yet on the ground, mixed with the pieces. "

In the conviction that what unites us is more than what divides, the nearly five hundred pages of the manual (enriched by a CD, as well as passages of Scripture and well-known and lesser-known documents of the Catholic Church) are organized into four parts: method, spirituality, history and systematics. From her perspective angle, each of them confirms what is perhaps the most striking trait: if unity is a gift from God, like so many other gifts, it is however also something that must be cultivated with tenacious, serious and deep dedication.

Inviting one to a groundwork which is at the same time theological, sociological, psychological, philosophical, anthropological, canon law and human, the text introduces an ecumenism understood not only as a system of thought, but also as prayer and Christian lifestyle.

The manual becomes in this way an instrument of information and formation: information because there are still too many prejudices to correct and overcome, formation because a systematic preparation is required for working in the field of ecumenism, in order to really move from conversation to dialogue. Between the Catholic Church and Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, the Reformed, Pentecostalists, Evangelicals, the Orthodox, disciples of Christ, Baptists, Assyrians from the East, Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox and Old Catholics.

There are three stages of the ecumenical method capable of articulating the relationship between the interlocutors, outlining a growing mutual openness: knowledge, sharing and communion. Step by step, in fact, what has been learned is examined and valued underlining similarities and differences. Only in this way is it possible to set off towards the construction of unity, towards, that is, the restoration of communion brick by brick. A delicate process that matures with the growth of knowledge and sharing, and that can always be further investigated and rooted.

The goal of the ecumenical movement is in fact to increase a communion between the Churches that is so real as to be visible without ambiguity; so fully shaped by charity as to be fully a sign of reconciliation, so varied and enriched by diversity, as to witness to the intangible breath of the Spirit of God.

Immersing oneself page after page in the book, the reader can clearly perceive what we might call the ecumenical daily character, both practical and theoretical, of Teresa Francesca Rossi. A familiarity that comes to her as a member of the Joint Working Group between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, from her involvement in the International Catholic-Pentecostal Theological Dialogue and of the Catholic-Baptist dialogue, but also from her work at the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, where she is Associate Director.

A place of ecumenical research and action, the Centro Pro Unione was founded in 1968 by the Franciscan friars of the Atonement, in order to continue the dialogue, study and training of theological, spiritual, pastoral and social ecumenism. The roots date back to seventy years earlier: in 1898, in fact, Mother Lurana White and Father Paul Wattson founded the Society of the Atonement ("redemption"), a religious congregation dedicated to Christian unity and reconciliation in the spirit of St. Francis. Since the founders were Episcopalians, in the beginning the society's roots were laid within that church community. But things changed in 1909 when the sisters and brothers of the Atonement entered into full communion with the Catholic Church: this was the first time that such a thing had happened since the time of the Reformation. Since then, with headquarters in New York, the society has embarked on a path of commitment to the unity of the Church and reconciliation, acting in several countries including the United States, Canada, Japan, England, Ireland, Brazil, the Philippines and Italy. Teresa Francesca Rossi’s innovative manual is one of the many fruits of the path undertaken.

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