Sixth Ecumenical Social Week: Between Diversity and Unity
The sixth Ecumenical Social Week (ESW), dedicated to accepting differences and fostering respect in various aspects of human life, was held October 1-5 in Lviv. The ESW has become a traditional autumn event and this year it again gathered Ukrainian and international experts, representatives of the church, civil society, media, politicians, educators, businesspersons, and government officials around current issues and challenges.
It all began with a joint ecumenical prayer for Christian unity in the St. Michael the Archangel Church, headed by Bishop Venedykt, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archeparchy of Lviv of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). “Today we often betray God, but the Lord accepts us all the way we are. We also need to let others live and walk under the sun, because God allows it. By accepting someone, we accept God,” Bishop Venedykt said in his homily.
Otherness as a gift
This was the theme of the official opening of the sixth Ecumenical Social Week, held Oct. 2. At the opening, one of the biggest events of the sixth ESW in Lviv, authority figures shared their thoughts on accepting differences in all of us and the development of respect.
“We see that our differences – the gift of God – are often an obstacle. And we cannot understand each other, though we speak the same language. Meetings like the one today give us hope that the love of God, which comes down from heaven, through our cooperation, discussion, through the experience of other countries, will allow us to love everyone,” the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Fr. Bohdan Prakh, said in his welcoming speech. The former head of the UGCC Bishop Lubomyr Husar sent an address to the participants of the Ecumenical Social Week.
We are more similar than different
This is the opinion conveyed by the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Thomas Edward Gullickson. “The basic Catholic teaching focuses on what is common to us by the will of God from eternity itself. The basic Catechism motivates my choice or obligation to see the other as a gift not on the basis of ‘otherness,’ but because we are more similar than different,” said the archbishop. “Otherness is more a barrier than a gift, it must be overcome, in the sense that bridges must be constructed between us. I have to learn another language, I must begin to appreciate other people's customs and culture. Barriers should be eliminated; there should be an exchange between us. I can be different, but I cannot pose as someone else, I have to find a place where I can be together with another. The gift of otherness seems to come when trying to overcome a challenge and finding a common language ... From my differences, I speak to others in the infinite joy of knowing that I have ‘a valuable gem,’ which, out of pure respect for others, who do not share this gift with me, I’d like to share. Their ‘otherness’ is a gift and challenge to me to such an extent that I engage them, certainly respect them, but engage them nonetheless, and ‘for the sake of the Name that is above every other name,’” concluded the Apostolic Nuncio.
In search of unity and diversity – after the Second Vatican Council
Fr. Ivan Datsko, the president of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University, shared his reflections. He suggested that difference should be interpreted as diversity. “The Second Vatican Council spoke of ‘unitas universitatea’ (unity in diversity). These slogans we heard often during the last 50 years. We hold the Ecumenical Social Week during the time of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which very clearly spoke about unity in diversity... Now, although we are no longer one church, which we should be, but we look at each other as friends with whom we want to restore the unity of the church community. The Vatican Council gave us the push to begin to yearn for unity, not to be indifferent to the fact that we live in the sin of separation. The church also spoke about universality and autonomy. Christians began to look for what unites us rather than what divides us. We began to realize that other churches also have great evangelical values. And the Ukrainian Church must be universal in its autonomy. I believe that the sixth ESW will strengthen the Ukrainian church and the Ukrainian people,” assured the audience Fr. Ivan Datsko.
The people of the Book
The second day of the Ecumenical Social Week started with the opening of the exhibition “The People of the Book,” which was dedicated to the major events in the life of the Jewish people. The exhibition consisted of 61 photos by Boris Buchman, Roman Vilensky, Vitaly Oplachka, Evheniy Ilyiny, and Shlomo Nizin. The works depicted two cycles in the life of the Jewish community: the cycle of life and the cycle of the liturgical calendar. Both cycles are centered around the precious treasure that has maintained the Jewish people for centuries – the Bible.
Interfaith dialogue: between finding unity and protecting values
This topic clerics and scholars of various Christian denominations discussed at a roundtable.
“Our unity is in our diversity – this is the foundation of any ecumenical dialogue,” said Bishop Venedykt. Professor of systematic theology at the Protestant Theological University of Amsterdam and a member of the Mission Department of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Heleen Zorgdrager, thoroughly described the Protestant Church’s position on the development of an ecumenical dialogue and its mission to establish close ties with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
In his speech, Professor Antoine Arjakovsky noted the difficulties of interchurch dialogue, saying that “there are too few people who believe in the power of truth, the reality of the unity of God and the Church of Christ. After all, the churches rarely work with independent university structures. These difficulties, whatever they are, are much smaller than those the church will have to face in the future, due to the powerful influence of secularization, the fragmentation of society, and the new ideological ambitions of states.” The main directions of further joint interfaith meetings should be working with historical sources, joint pastoral (pedagogic) work, and social developments.
The Secretary General of L'Oeuvre d'Orient (France), Hubert de Gabor, said the main goal of the organization is to establish a joint ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern Churches. “Finding unity among Christian denominations is the aim of ecumenism, but is ecumenical dialogue the only way to achieve unity? Can ecumenical dialogue refuse the Eucharist, which is another name of Christian unity? Should the Eucharist be seen as the ultimate goal of dialogue, and is it a means to achieve the goal without waiting for an agreement on ideas and principles? But then can the Eucharist be officiated without putting at risk values that form the basis of the identity of participants in the dialogue?” There are the questions Hubert de Gabor posed to the audience.
Meeting of Ukraine and Austria
The prospects of the Ukrainian-Austrian dialogue were reflected on during the presentation of the book “Ukrainian-Austrian Meetings,” published with the support of the Department of Education and Science of the Austrian Embassy in Ukraine.
The book was presented by Austria's Ambassador to Ukraine Wolf Dietrich Heim, who said that the publication of this book was an attempt to emphasize the historical continuity of Ukrainian-Austrian cooperation and showcase its achievements, and determine the perspectives of dialogue, especially cultural, between the two countries.
“Waiting for a Pan-Orthodox Council”
A book with this title was presented by Professor Antoine Arjakovsky. The author calls for openness in dealing with the problems of separation. “Now it is important to engage and talk about oneself, because it concerns us.” As evidence, he pointed to the fact that he used his personal experience in the book. Antoine Arjakovsky himself is Orthodox, and his wife is Catholic. So he, like no one else, deeply understands how to construct unity in diversity.
The third day of the ESW was focused on discussing the social aspects of life. In particular, there was a panel discussion on “Differences and Respect: Self-Realization of Vulnerable Groups,” where speakers shared their experiences of working with young people with special needs and children who found themselves in difficult situations. In the panel discussion “Social Consequences of Women’s Migration” the participants discussed the fate of Euro-migrants and Euro-orphans, debunked myths about the lives of children of migrant workers, and defined the real picture of their situation. At the roundtable “Initiative Within the Community as a Factor to Consider Differences and Show Respect As a Way to Establish Civil Society,” participants discussed the work of social workers, the responsibility to the people they work with, the development of social projects in Ukraine, the formation of a network of social services ...
In addition, a workshop “Balintovska Group” was held for social workers. It was led by Svitlana Belyaeva, supervisor of social projects and programs, the chief psychologist and co-founder of the NGO Western Ukrainian Center Women's Perspectives. Anyone could visit social organizations, particularly the workshop of the L'Arche community for people with intellectual disabilities and the Center for Integrated Care for Women in Crisis Situations.
Charity in Lviv: Threats and prospects
It is worth noting that at the sixth ESW there was much discussion about charity. In particular, a meeting of the round table “Promotion of Charity by Holding Public Events” was held on October 3. The event was organized by the Philanthropists’ Association of Ukraine, which promotes charity. Representatives of charities had the opportunity to speak about threats and prospects of philanthropy in Lviv at the roundtable, which was organized by the NGO SAMI together with the foundation Kryla Nadiyi (Wings of Hope). The participants of the meeting discussed the threats that exist today in charity in Lviv and Ukraine. In particular, there is a problem that lies in the emergence of foundations and organizations, which speculate on charity and use the trust of the community for their own enrichment. This situation negatively affects the activity charitable organizations and the development of charity in general. So philanthropists had a reason to meet and reflect on ways to solve it.
Educating leading Christian groups in Eastern Europe…
…was discussed at a roundtable by representatives of various religious communities and educational institutions.
Rector of the Holy Spirit Seminary, Fr. Ihor Boyko, spoke about “being in the service of life” and the activities of the School of Bioethics UCU. If in the modern world, according to Pope John Paul II, there is a “culture of death,” the purpose of the education of the students of the School of Bioethics is to spread the “culture of life.” A representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and member of the Commission on Christian Ethics and Education Fr. Mykolay Baranov pondered on whether the Ukrainian school is secular or atheistic. The priest spoke of the distortion of moral consciousness. For secular education does not preclude the study of Christian ethics. “Secular” does not mean “atheistic.”
UCU Rector Fr. Bohdan Prakh described the process of becoming students of this university and their achievements. An interesting fact was that of the 740 students who studied abroad, 93% returned back to Ukraine.
The head of the Department of Youth, Family and Sports of the Lviv City Council Volodymyr Schneider spoke about creating conditions for the education of youth through children's clubs. “Now we have the problem of the virtualization of the lives of young people. Our mission is to come up with something that can compete with social networks,” said Volodymyr Schneider.
“Training and Educating Young Christian Leaders in Europe: Cooperation of the Church with Saturday Schools” – this theme was discussed by the director of the Catechetical-Pedagogical Institute UCU Sister Dr. Luiza Tsyupa. The director of the Ukrainian Charitable Foundation Faith, Hope, Love, archdeacon Ioan Didenko, described the interactive methods of raising a teenager. “The problem of today's children is the problem of parents. In the camp 90% of the people were believers; and what we faced was that the children said to their fathers that they are alone. So they sit in social networks. The problem is parents who live their own lives,” said the archdeacon.
The main prison chaplain of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine, Fr. Hryhoriy Draus, spoke about prayer and biblical conversation in the family as a way of Christian education, for in his work with prisoners, the father noticed that he had never seen anyone among the prisoners who was raised with prayer and reading the Scriptures. On the moral dangers that accompany a young man in carrying out his mission and how to overcome them spoke associate professor of the Lviv Regional Institute of Postgraduate Pedagogical Education, Halyna Sokhan.
On Youth Day, the training session “International Youth Cooperation in the Field of Non-Formal Education” was held. The day ended with a meeting in the spirit of Taizé. After the prayer, the youth community spoke via Skype with Brother Benoit, a monk of Taizé (France), who is responsible for relations with Ukraine.
The social organizations of the city held a fair on Saturday, October 5, on Rynok Square. Lviv residents and guests were particularly impressed by the bright trunks painted in folk style – the creation of residents of Oselia, a place for homeless people. Visitors were able to buy the magazine Prosto Neba, a publication aimed at helping homeless people, as well as children’s and religious literature. Inspiring photos of people with special needs were presented by the Prominchyk Down Syndrome Center. Postcards, beaded necklaces, candles, and wooden icons – such products offered to buy from the community L'Arche. Representatives from the Emmaus Center of Spiritual Support for Persons with Special Needs distributed newspapers and pamphlets with information about the activities of the community.
And this is how intense the sixth Ecumenical Social Week in Lviv was.