Eight years ago the ecumenical community Chemin Neuf adopted the Charterhouse of Aula Dei, a Carthusian monastery in Zaragoza, Spain.
The monks who built up this world-famous charterhouse over the course of centuries could no longer maintain it, due to their much-reduced numbers. However, the Chemin Neuf community—which is active in many countries around the world—took over the area and renovated it, turning into a center of theological education. Engaged Christians of all different denominations and confessions meet there for three- or six-month-long courses. At present the emphasis is equally on substantial continuing education in theology as well as on sharing a common spiritual life.
Already back in 2013 the community invited André Birmelé of the Strasbourg Institute to teach a week-long course in the program. He did so for the sixth time in November 2018. Fifty-six students from eleven nations gathered together in Zaragoza. They came were Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Copts from Egypt, Orthodox, and Maronites.
Previously Prof. Birmelé focused his week’s teaching on a general introduction to ecumenism. This year it was decided to address the ecumenical issue on the basis of a specific theme, that of sin, grace, and salvation. This realization allowed for an existential approach to ecumenical questions. Almost none of the participants had ever heard before of the consensus in matters pertaining to salvation, namely the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was signed in 1999 by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches. Methodists, Anglicans and the Reformed associated some years later. In fact, up to that point almost none of the participants had ever even had an ecumenical encounter. As a result, there was great interest in the topic and many discoveries were made in the context of getting to know other churches.
In this framework a Lutheran worship service was held, presided over by Pastor Cathy Birmelé. Differently from in previous years, this time neither Lutheran nor Reformed participants attended the course in Zaragoza. In spite of this it was important to celebrate this service to further the cause of mutual understanding. The majority of participants took part in holy communion. It was an occasion of intense spiritual fellowship.
Photo: Chemin Neuf