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Report of the 2nd World Gathering of Interchurch Families

The Second World Gathering of Interchurch Families in Rome in July 2003 was an interesting successor to the First World Gathering in Geneva in 1998. It demonstrated the work that had been done by all the countries at local level, and through the International Gathering in Canada in 2001. People came to the Rome Gathering from Italy, Switzerland, the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Australia, the USA and Canada. There were 200 adults and 100 children and young people from Interchurch families.

It was a very participatory meeting, with valuable and well-attended small group discussions, together with a programme for young people to allow them to discuss matters particularly affecting them. The worship sessions and the celebrations expressed the riches of the many ecclesiastical and cultural traditions from which we all came.

The Preparatory Paper (which was discussed by NIMMA at Draperstown) was adopted by the conference and was presented to Monsignor Jack Radano when a representative group visited the offices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity in the Vatican. We had an hour-long discussion with Monsignor Radano about the opportunities that could be found within Interchurch marriages for increased understanding between Christian Churches. We talked to the Preparatory Paper and drew attention to the areas in it where, through our experience, we felt that change in church practice and attitude could occur and barriers to meeting the needs of couples could be reduced. This could also help Christian communities struggling to live at peace with each other.

Some people went to Castelgandolfo for the Angelus and for an appearance by the Pope. There was also a visit to the Anglican Centre in Rome.

The conference took place at a monastery outside Rome at a place called Rocca di Papa, which was on the other side of Lake Albano from Castelgandolfo. It was comfortable and had lovely gardens overlooking the lake. It was hot, and the mosquitoes were kept at bay by heavy spraying. The atmosphere was vibrant with everyone trying to overcome the barriers of language – very difficult for the young – but were all united by a common situation and a common cause to persuade the churches to be inclusive of all Christian traditions. We did not feel that much had moved on in some churches and communities since we met in Geneva, but the determination of people to persevere and to support on another on a global basis was stronger and better organised than ever before.

It was a great pleasure to meet so many friends whom we, and NIMMA, have made at the International Meetings in Rydal in 1980, and Corrymeela in 1982 and 1990, and Bellinter in 1986 and 1994, as well those in England, Virginia Beach and Edmonton. There is now a powerful network of people who journey along the road to interchurch and intercommunity understanding on a daily basis, often at great cost. We were very grateful to be there.

We are indebted to the international committee who organised the Conference. It was a tremendous feat, and they were a great team. The strain was considerable on them but their achievement was formidable, and all the national groups felt refreshed and reinforced by all that they had heard and debated. And it was great fun!

Anne and William Odling-Smee (Northern Ireland) August 2003