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PEP: Part 5 – Ecumenism and dialogue

To the Church ecumenicism is a "dialogue to perform evangelisation" (5.1.2) intended "to introduce into the [interfaith] meetings a missionary element." (5.4.2) Only Church officials are to attend commemorations of Msgr. President Tiso's deportation of Jews to the death camps, but not "representatives of the laity" (who are supposed to venerate this priest who led the Nazi puppet state) (5.3.1 F) In a note the translator explains why the statstics on religion may bear little relationship to people's actual beliefs.


 Pastorisation and Evangelisation Plan
 of the Catholic Church in Slovakia,

Pastoračný a evanjelizačný plán Katolíckej cirkvi na Slovensku (2001-2006)

By the Slovak Bishops Conference, 10 May 2001.
Translation and notes by Prof. em. Alexander Rehák 


Part five
5. Ecumenism and the dialogue

5.1. People without a religious faith

5.1.1. The situation

A)  According to statistics in Slovakia 27% of the population do not claim adherence to any religion and according to investigations of the Slovak Academy of Science (SAV) in 1998 more than 40 % of the population do not go to church at all, not even occasionally. [1] Such disbelief is rather an attitude, than a system, theory or an abstract ideology. The reason for this phenomenon should be looked for also in the former political totalitarian era.

B)  The Second Vatican Council denounced atheism as a system, but it expressed also a confidence that the hope for the glorious resurrection “doesn’t apply only to those who believe in Christ, but to all people of good will, in whose hearts of mercy acts in an invisible way” (GS 22) . The reason is that “The Holy Ghost grants to all – in a way known only to God – to have their share in this mystery of Eastertide” (GS 22). It emphasises the importance of evangelisation, but it also opens new opportunities to lead a dialogue with them and to discover new common values. It invites the non-believers “to reflect on the Gospel of Christ with their sincere hearts” (GS 21). It proclaims that “believers and non-believers should help to build up this world in which they live alongside one another” (GS 21).

C)  The Council’s fathers knew about “the mystery of evil” (and the attacks against the Church have since then escalated). They have analysed the roots of atheism and come to the conclusion that there is also an accidental ignorance of God; there are unbelievers of good will, with whom it is possible to lead a dialogue and to co-operate. They have acknowledged, that “the arousal of atheism can be caused to a great extent by believers” – if they “rather obscure, than reveal the correct face of God – with their mode of lives with an incorrect interpreting of the teaching” (GS 19). The same view of the non-believers was implied by the words of Jesus, “Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who fulfil the wish of my Father” (Mt 7:21).

D)  This viewpoint on the non-believers gave rise to initiatives centred on dialogue and co-operation with them. Many non-believers co-operate with the framework of social initiatives of the Society of Mother Theresa’s Friends. The movement Focolare [2] all over the world leads a systematic dialogue with the “friends of non-religious conviction” who participate in meetings and social initiatives of the Society of Saint Egidius (Italy) and they have started up an international initiative, Moratorium for Capital Punishment. The International year of the Family was adopted also from an initiative by believing people

5.1.2. The aims

In view of the desire of Christ “to make all people one” (Jn 17:21), to approach all the non-believers. To instil in the believers the view of the Council about the mysterious action of mercy upon all people of good will and the Council’s teaching about the possibility of salvation for people who, through accident, don’t know God.

To invite all people of good will to a dialogue and initiatives focussed on the true values, such as justice, solidarity, freedom, concord, fraternity, peace among the nations and in the hearts of all people, protection of life and of the family, social initiatives, charity, etc. in conducting this dialogue to perform evangelisation.

5.1.3. Recommendations.

a)  To revise the subjects related to theology and the curricula of religious education in terms of the parts outlined above on this teaching about the non-believers;

b)  To create a Council at the Bishops Conference for dialogue with the non-believers and their evangelisation;

c)  To create groups for this dialogue, which should keep to the following principles: to transmit the Gospel by their lives, not to expect great events, to do “small things with a great love”. To seek things which unite us, to trust in the mercy which acts invisibly within the non-believers. To preserve one’s own identity and to respect the identity of the others.

d)  To overcome the defensive position against the non-believers, not to limit oneself to reacting against adverse phenomena;

e)  To seize the initiative and to start the dialogue with them, to look for chances of co-operation and values which are in common. To live in close friendship with them and they can gradually rethink their style of life and accept the culture of giving, instead of consuming, purity and faithfulness instead of unrestricted sexual debauchery;

f)  A dialogue with the non-believers doesn’t rule out, but supports evangelisation, which is not only a transfer of information about the God, but above all witnessing a live and mature faith.

5.2. The sects

5.2.1 The situation

A)  The spiritual scenery in Slovakia after 1989 has become ever more fragmented. This is due to the active and organised operation of many destructive spiritual groupings (sects and cults) and of newly-formed religious and esoteric movements; their one-sided activity sometimes produces in young people who are searching a feeling of dependence which deprives them of their own identity and creativity. All this deforms their positive relation to the Church; to the society and in the mental sphere it leads to stagnation and confusion. In addition, any unnatural change of the personality brings about many undesirable psychic and social symptoms.

B)  The Council of Europe passed on June 22, 1999 a recommendation about the illegal activities of the sects, by which the European States have been invited to launch national Information Centres for questions about religious esoteric and spiritual groups.

C)  In Slovakia we are only now gradually getting acquainted with the outlined problematic. There is little objective information about, or experience with, these issues. Since 1995 there has been an Ecumenical Society for the Study of Sects (ESPŠS), which publishes a special magazine, Rozmer [Dimension] dedicated to the problem of sects. The numbers of staff and the print run (1500 copies) doesn’t nearly cover the need. We particularly lack a network of specialised consulting and information centres, which would disseminate knowledge about the sects in the regions, bishoprics and parishes and would communicate with the National Centre. The Institute for State and Church Relations is to deal with this problem, too.

5.2.2 The aims

Through enlightenment and publication activity to fill the information vacuum, to check the rising influence of the destructive sects and cults and the new religious movements.

5.2.3 Recommendations

a)  To establish in each diocese a consultation and information centre;

b)  To organise lectures and seminars for the priests, catechists, and teachers;

c)  To co-operate with the centres on the diocesan and national levels;

d)  By expanding and further building up the ESPŠS and in co-operation with additional churches, especially with the ECAV [Evangelic Church of the Augsburg Creed (Lutherans)] to establish a Central Body with a national scope of operation, which will co-operate with the theological faculties and institutions abroad (Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Russia, etc);

e)  To organise conferences and (at intervals) congresses with international participation about the problematic of sects;

f)  To organise professional schooling for the pedagogues and the staff members of different diocesan centres;

g)  To publish methodical materials, specialised publications, aids for study and pastorisation;

h)  To organise press conferences, to put out press releases;

i)  To participate in producing broadcast and television reports;

j)  To publish the magazine, Rozmer [Dimension];

k)  To set up a special internet website and a confidential telephone line;

l)  To perform personal advisory activities;

m)  To establish a professional group composed of the representatives of the involved churches, specialists for the problematic of sects, and specialists for social sciences (psychology, pedagogy, sociology, law) , which would draft declarations of principal importance for the media and the Central Administrative Offices;

n)  To produce professional reviews about the study and methodical aids of the sects;

o)  To deepen the theoretical and practical co-operation in this sphere with other Christian churches.

5.3. The dialogue with the Jews and the Moslems

5.3.1. The situation

A)  It appears that after many historical events we are today beginning to find our way to a dialogue with the Jews. Representatives of Christian Churches in Košice have several times paid visits to the Jewish Religious Commune, represented by their rabbi and the chairman of the Commune [of the Jews]; in the framework of the festival of sacred arts they also visited the synagogue where the Jews were preparing through prayers for their Sabbath.

B)  The representative (the rabbi or the chairman) of the ŽNO [Židovská náboženská obec, Jewish Religious Commune] regularly took part in the meetings of the Ecumenical Community [Ekumenické spoločenstvo] and attended the divine service when it took place outside a church. His participation consisted of reading a passage from the Old Testament in Hebrew and some sentences commenting on the words of the Scripture. It was an ecumenical Mass this January and a concert of the choirs (theologians of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, a group of the Jewish Commune and others) at the festival of sacred arts; additional ecumenical divine services were not suitable for the Jews, (the Passion Play on Friday, thanksgiving Holy Mass – performed in the church Veni Sancte for the Universities – performed at the church, too, a range of recitals and songs as a preparation for Christmas, organised by the township every year during Advent.)

C)  The Jews remember every year in Košice the deportation and the violent deaths of the Jewish nation’s members. At these yearly remembrances representatives of the ES (Ecumenical Community) take part.

D)  The Jewish Religious Commune is a member of the Ecumenical Community [Ekumenické spoločenstvo].

E)  The celebration of the ecumenical divine services meets some difficulties: the representatives of the Jewish commune usually read of the Old Testament and comment on it with a few words, and then they must listen to the text of the New Testament and commentaries belonging to it.

F)  At the remembrances of the “shoah” representatives of the laity are not present.

5.3.2. The aims

To become better acquainted and thus to overcome the residue of anti-Semitism and the superstitions on both sides and to deepen relations on the basis of the parts of the Scripture [held] in common.

5.3.3 Recommendations

a)  Lectures and meditations of Jews and Christians, conducted in common, could foster an awareness of “kinship”, that they are our “elder brothers”.

b)  To also develop contacts outside matters of worship.

5.4 The dialogue with the Moslems

5.4.1. The situation

A)  As is the case with the dialogue with the Jews, there are only a few activities known in Slovakia in the township of Košice (where about 12 Moslems live). They are organised in the association Opus Arabicum Slovakia – it is an organisation for cultural relations with the Arabic world. They have organised for people who are interested lectures aimed at “removing obstacles and bringing two different cultures closer” – in the municipal hall, and at other places. The lecture: The place of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Moslem faith was attended by an audience of 40.

5.4.2. The aims

To get to know each other, to remove prejudices, to look for things which unite us, and to introduce into the meetings a missionary element.

5.3.3. Recommendations

There is an interest in lectures on both sides. The concrete goals: to speak about the Prophets (shared by both of these religions) from the points of view of Moslems and Christians. For the sake of approaching one another, to organise lectures about the God of the Old Testament and of the Koran; about the patriarchs – and personalities of faith.

5.5 Ecumenism

5.5.1. The situation

A)  As a positive feature one can take the fact, that at several places of Slovakia prayers in groups take place, divine services on anniversary days of the founding of towns and villages, and prayers for the deceased and in the time of the January prayers for unity, concerts of religious songs; mutual help in erecting buildings, solving together the problems of the Romany citizens.

B)  A negative sign is that the essence of ecumenism – which is the spirit of Christ’s love – is missing in some churches since in “the magazines of this country there still appear articles by some churches attacking other churches” and this raises suspicion about the sincerity of the ecumenical positions. A solid theological or historical dialogue hasn’t yet taken place. Neither has there been any common ecumenical meeting of the higher representatives of the Churches. An exception is some declarations of the president of the Bishops Conference and the president of the Ecumenical Council of the Church (ERC) made in common.

C)  In the light of the Revelation and the Magisterium the basis of ecumenism is: the Testament of Jesus Christ (Jn 17:21), the Second Vatican Council in the Decree about Ecumenism (UR), the encyclical of John Paul II, Ut unum sint (1995). The calling of the Church and the very nature of the Church as a community expressing the God’s will, is to pray and work for a visible unity of Christians. This applies to Churches as units, to particular bearers of responsibility in these Churches, as well as to every Christian.

D)  It is not only a matter of activities of interest to the Church, being undertaken by those who have received the message. It is a responsibility, which has been given by being inoculated by Christ, by being ordained and by accepting an office in the Church.

5.5.2. The aims

To grow in mutual love, reverence, respect, help and co-operation and in activities which are in common to all Christians.

5.5.3 Recommendations

a)  Within the framework of a theological dialogue to prepare and to implement an agreement about baptism with the Lutheran Church

b)  To organise lectures in common about selected theological and biblical themes (on television and radio, too);

c)  To foster the spirit of ecumenism among the clergy, especially at recollections [rekolekcia: group meetings for deliberation about religious issues];

d)  To also teach the believers about ecumenism at some of the divine services, the students and pupils at their catechisation;

e)  To put emphasis on the pastorisation of mixed marriages;

f)  To establish a Slovak Ecumenical Directorium;

g)  On the internet portal to create a data base of the ecumenical initiatives and structures;

h)  To develop ecumenism in practical activities by common charitable activities, in the social field, for the protection of human life, by helping the morality of the whole society;

i)  To involve the youth in ecumenical activities by their own performances such as concerts, lessons of Bible;

j)  To help believers foster their Catholic identity. It is a matter of formation in the faith, developing efforts towards sacredness, and only afterwards to explain the differences and promote esteem for the rich traditions of the other Churches.



Footnotes for Part 5


By the translator, Dr. Alexander Rehák


[1] There is a striking discrepancy between these figures and those from the last (2001) census. This showed Roman Catholics 68.93%, Atheists 12.9%, Evangelical Church of Augsburg [Lutherans] 6.93%, Greek Catholics 4.09%, Unwilling to declare 2.98%, Reformed Christians [Calvinists] 2.04% and Orthodox 0.94%.
This discrepancy is hardly surprising, in view of the fact that before the census a pastoral letter was read in all Catholic churches, admonishing that everyone who had been baptised was necessarily a Christian. (And even the translator was told by the collector of the filled-in forms that his baptism determined his present religious affiliation.)

[2] See footnote 1 above.


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