Three occasions serve as the background to this article: the 112th death anniversary of our Founder Arnold Janssen, Christian Unity Octave- January 18-25, and the recently launched Arnold Janssen Spirituality Website. Additionally, the Third Sunday of January- which this year falls on the 17th – is observed as World Religion Day for promoting interfaith understanding and harmony. In this article I attempt to shed light on the topic of ecumenical value of Fratelli Tutti, the ecumenical contribution of the World Council of Churches and Fr. Arnold’s significance in inter-church unity. Although the terms ecumenism and inter- faith dialogue have technically different connotations, considering their close relationship, this paper applies them interchangeably to mean either or both. The topic is treated in three parts.
The Encyclical Fratelli Tutti (FT) begins with the inter- faith scene of St. Francis of Assisi going to meet the Sultan Malik-el-Kamil in Egypt, in the time of the crusades and amid considerable hardship. Francis set out with the attitude of “not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”. It is remarkable that already some eight hundred years ago St. Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith (#3). It is interesting to note that among the sources the Pope cited for inspiration, a good number are non-Catholic, even non-Christian. The venue of the encounter of the Pope with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb- Abu Dhabi- is also significant from an inter-faith point of view. In the said encounter, together they declared: “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters”. He called it “a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment”. In similar vein Pope Francis recalls that in the preparation of Laudato Si’, his inspiration came from Brother Bartholomew – the Orthodox Patriarch (#5).
Fratelli Tutti is addressed to all people of good will, to every man and woman (#6). Paragraph eight makes a touching invitation: “as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all”. The Encyclical then talks about the need to dream together common dreams, to discern together and to go out to embrace the other in genuine encounter. The problems and realities Fratelli Tutti presents in chapter one resonate with all, notwithstanding one’s religion or denomination.
Pope Francis promotes a dialogue of life which means not to argue over dogmas and doctrines, but to join hands and to tread new paths of hope in what concerns humanity such as poverty eradication, job creation, ecological questions and migration. Imagining the post-Covid-19 world his prayer is: “God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of “them” and “those”, but only “us” (#35). Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate. To do so calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples (#50). The need to think beyond given parameters, to include and to move together are not just present here and there in the document; it is the recurring theme and the explicit appeal throughout the work.
The ecumenical value of the document is made abundantly clear in the second chapter which illustrates the universal call to fraternity through the most eloquent parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 25-37 ). The parable is a poignant example for dialogue of life: to be moved by human suffering, to look beyond religion, to act concretely, and to bear witness to the God of compassion without words but through the witness of life. The characters of the story belong to various and even rival religious and cultural traditions- Judaism and Samarian religion. They represent diverse professions and classes: priests, Levites, merchants and robbers. Suffering is a common human phenomenon, to be bruised and abandoned by the roadside is an everyday sight. Dialogue of life summons us to rediscover our vocation as citizens of our respective nations and of the entire world, builders of a new social bond responding promptly and effectively to human need (# 66).
Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, but people (#115). Chapter three opens with this statement: “today’s issues and problems force us to see things in a new light and develop new responses”. It is about undertaking a journey together. In paragraph 130 he lists some indispensable steps and affirms the need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved (#137).
“In this regard, Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb and I have called upon “the architects of international policy and world economy to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace, to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood” (# 192). Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, of the most courageous men and women (#194). Mahatma Gandhi also said something similar: “forgiveness is the quality of the strong not of the weak”.
Chapter six presents the steps for effective dialogue- approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and finding common ground- all these things are summed up in the one word “dialogue” (#198). Authentic social dialogue involves the ability to respect the other’s point of view and to admit that it may include legitimate convictions and concerns. Social dialogue leads to encounter with others, to honest pursuit of the whole truth, to service, to closeness to the underprivileged, to the promotion of the common good and to seek the truth that responds to life’s deepest meaning (# 205, 207). Authentic dialogue affirms certain enduring and non-negotiable values and principles by their inherent meaning (#211). Universal and enduring values include justice, peace, non-violence, integral human development, human dignity and rights and questions pertaining to the deeper meaning of life. All religions agree on these. The encyclical speaks of a “culture of encounter” meaning, we as a people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges and planning projects that include everyone (#216).
The topic of religions and their service to fraternal communion in the society are treated in chapter eight. It states: “from our faith experience and from the wisdom accumulated over centuries, but also from lessons learned from our many weaknesses and failures, we, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies” (#274). Religious traditions that are the repository of centuries of experience and wisdom must be listened to (#275). Religious ministers cannot ignore a constant attention to the common good and a concern for integral human development (#276). Every religion has its sources of tradition and wisdom from which its followers drink. Christians drink from the rich sources of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from which there arises the primacy given to relationship, the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, and universal communion with the entire human family as a vocation of all (#277). The entire paragraph of two hundred and eighty is a prayer for promoting unity within the churches. “Without watering down or concealing our deepest convictions when we encounter others who think differently than ourselves, we believers need to find occasions to speak with one another and to act together for the common good and the promotion of the poor… for the deeper, stronger and richer our own identity is, the more we will be capable of enriching others with our own proper contribution” (#282). The section on dialogue ends with an appeal, “In the name of all persons of goodwill present in every part of the world, for peace, justice and fraternity. As the Pope says that he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, I would like to close this section by one of Gandhi’s much- quoted sayings on religion and humanism: “In times to come, people will not judge us by the creed we profess or the label we wear or the slogans we shout, but by our work, industry, sacrifice, honesty and purity of character”.
In this section, I would like to present- as one associated with it for the past six years- some of the ecumenical contributions of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The World Council of Churches as a fellowship of three hundred and forty-nine churches, is a worldwide council founded in 1948. After World War ll when nation states came together to found the United Nations Organization, the idea of a family of nations came true. In the same vein the churches also deemed fit to have a similar organization to come together in unity, mutual collaboration, enrichment and genuine respect. Today it is a worldwide fellowship of more than three hundred global, regional, sub-regional, national and local churches seeking unity, common witness and Christian service. WCC is a communion of:
The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of World Council of Churches. Reasons for abstaining from membership include, inter alia, the disparity in structure, self- understanding and the size of the Catholic Church. However, the WCC Commissions on Faith and Order as well as on World Mission and Evangelism include Roman Catholics who are members with full voting rights. Sponsored by the Vatican, a Roman Catholic professor is part of the faculty at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey- Switzerland – an international centre for encounter, dialogue and formation. WCC covers five hundred and ninety million people in one hundred and fifty countries. Its administrative centre is at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva – Switzerland.
The cross and the boat, early Christian symbols of the church, embody faith and unity. The symbol of the boat has its origins in the Gospel story of Jesus calling the disciples and the stilling of the storm on Lake Galilee. The word “Oikoumene” comes from the Greek word “oikos” meaning house. Its English equivalent is “ecumenical”. In modern usage, it signifies the whole household of faith, all races, all nations and all the churches. Red colour stands for renewed purpose and energy. This is the official logo in effect since 1948, but local variations with suitable adaptations are used since then. WCC has the copyright of the logo.
Organizationally the World Council of Churches has:
I will say a little more about this Commission because it is here that the three Catholic Commissioners- Fr. Stephen Bevans SVD (USA), Fr. Richard Nyombi M. Afr. (UGANDA) and Sr. Mary John Kudiyiruppil SSpS (INDIA)- are actively involved. The Commission has about forty-five members from different parts of the world and representing various churches. One of the principal tasks of the Commission is to reflect deeper on the understanding of mission today for our world with its diverse contexts and needs in the light of the mission affirmation document “Together Towards Life” about which I shall say more below.
The theme of the World Council of Churches’ General Assembly in Busan 2013 was “Together Towards Life: Mission and evangelism in Changing Landscapes”, shortened to read Together Towards Life or TTL. “Together Towards Life”, in 112 paragraphs, is the official WCC position statement on mission and evangelism and is the new ecumenical mission affirmation. Presenting the document, the initial paragraph says: “It seeks a broad appeal, even wider than WCC member churches and affiliated mission bodies, so that we can commit ourselves together to fullness of life for all, led by the God of Life”. For Catholics, the term “Evangelism” has different connotations. It is, however, a favourite word with the World Council of Churches and is used frequently and interchangeably to mean mission in TTL and subsequent documents. “Together Towards Life” defines evangelism as “the outflow of hearts that are filled with the love of God for those who do not yet know him” ( TTL # 81).
Important are the words “Together”, “Towards” and “Life”. Together implies unity, harmony, oneness and communion, and is a key ecumenical concept. “Towards” stands for movement that is dynamic, purposeful and of a pilgrim nature. “Life” sets the agenda for concrete action. Fuller and more abundant life is the goal towards which all of us move in resolute determination.
In the years following the General Assembly, the WCC in general, and the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism in particular, explored the practical and theoretical implications of “Together Towards Life” with active involvement in promoting peace, prosperity and defence of human rights worldwide. Theological and biblical deepening of the theme took place in successive conferences, through the World Mission Congress in Arusha in 2018 and through the Working Groups’ activities and reports. WCC gives a lot of importance to TTL.
The Holy Spirit, mission and evangelism are the three central concepts in the document. The entire document may be described as a document on the Holy Spirit; virtually every paragraph features the words Holy Spirit, mission and evangelism. TTL 94-96 reflects on the theme of inter- faith dialogue and the Spirit of unity. The document says that the context of the WCC has facilitated close working relationships with the Roman Catholic Church in particular, (TTL # 65). It has been able to encounter new understandings of mission and unity from the Catholic and other churches. Unity in mission is the basis for the visible unity of the churches (TTL # 69).
“Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship” was the theme of the World Mission Congress in Arusha- Tanzania, 8-13 March 2018 which witnessed a gathering of more than a thousand people from various churches, among them thirty or more Catholics. A key concept of the Arusha Mission Congress was discipleship: transforming, authentic, learning and formative. Dialogue of life along with effective action, witness and integrity of life are seen as essential to successful evangelism or mission.
The 11th General Assembly of the WCC is scheduled to take place from 31 August to 1 September 2022 in Karlsruhe, Germany. The Assembly with the theme “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity” will take further the dynamic nature of mission and unity. Mission is not something static, it is dynamic, it is Spirit- led and it achieves reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation and unity are seen to be the two most urgent needs of the world and the churches today.
It has been my experience that the World Council of Churches approaches Papal encyclicals and messages with great interest and openness. Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca- the Interim Secretary General of the WCC- affirms the great interreligious potential of Fratelli Tutti. He gives his comments on the encyclical in the WCC weekly newsletter. He points out many meeting points and common ground for ecumenical and inter religious dialogue with other churches. He says the document offers important intersections, great concordance and common ground for action. The Pope shows us how we are called to live our citizenship and our call to live as Christians, how the two need to be balanced, how the two need to synchronize and merge. Thinking, working, and acting by cultivating the virtue of Christian love, which is understood as the cornerstone for our coexistence, people can build relationships, which go beyond networks of associations to an expression of solidarity that finds concrete expression in service. Love is not something we choose, but it has chosen us first and is choosing us always anew. Making space for the divine love to work in and through us, we discover the way we are called to live our citizenship. This is the core message of Fratelli Tutti. In it, Pope Francis recalls several times, the great interreligious achievement on human fraternity, for world peace and living together, and refers to the Document that was co-signed with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in 2019.
We are standing at the threshold of the Church Unity Octave 2021. It has been a rich tradition of the World Council of Churches to observe Church Unity Octave with special prayer services for wider use. The theme of this year’s Christian Unity Week reads: “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5-9). It was prepared by the Sisters of Grandchamp, Switzerland- a Monastic community of nuns who come from different cultural and confessional backgrounds.
Having been associated with the World Council of Churches for the past six years, I have found the WCC to be a great agent of ecumenical understanding and unity among churches. The importance given to the Word of God (there are always biblical scholars who conduct Bible study sessions) and liturgical worship are impressive. Lively liturgical music, active and often spontaneous participation of all, nearly equal distribution of roles along gender lines as preachers, ministers, presiders over functions and key position holders are other areas of strength of the WCC. There is cordial relationship, profound respect and sincere collaboration between the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church even though the latter is not a member. There is hierarchy in the Council too. Occasionally the meetings and events have witnessed exchanges between persons and groups that show that the organization is not entirely free of the natural, human tendencies for recognition, power and comfort. However, the laity and especially women play a vital role in matters pertaining to church organization, religious instruction and liturgy. The World Council of Churches promotes ecumenical unity not primarily through documents but through its very existence. The Institution itself is a sign of Christian unity. That it has survived and thrived these seventy three years, is a colossal proof that it is possible to work together in unity.
In the third and final part, I would like to elucidate the ecumenical significance of Fr. Arnold. If he was alive today, I believe, he would have been at the forefront of the ecumenical movement and inter-faith dialogue. In Arnold’s days ecumenism was limited to Protestant-Catholic interrelationship. Praying for Christian unity meant prayers and attempts to bring the separated brethren back to the Catholic faith. He lived at a time when Germany was divided along church lines of dominantly protestant and relatively smaller Catholic population. In the Nineteenth Century, Kulturkampf had managed to divide Germany into Protestant and Catholic in a most acute manner. The intense feelings created by the Kulturkampf drove the wedge between the Christian Churches deeper than ever. The division, and even open hostility, were visible in almost every sphere of social, ecclesial and national life. Arnold Janssen called it the “internal cancer” eating up German greatness from within. The general concern in his days was how to gain ground in areas which the Roman Catholics lost to Protestants. But the Founder took an exception from this common ailment that afflicted even well- meaning Catholics in that his methodology was one of spiritual strength instead of brute force.
It pained him to see the disunity among Christians. Ending the scandalous division of the faith was a concern most dear to his heart, and he did everything in his capacity to bring together separated churches. One of his most striking thoughts on this subject goes that successful mission work is the fruit of unity of faith at home. He held the view that if we are not united in home church we can expect little by way of missionary fruitfulness outside. He called it the “a wonderful cycle of grace” between the home countries and the foreign missions. Unity of faith among all Christians, he knew, could be attained only through prayer and sacrifice. He said: “We can expect worthwhile accomplishments in the foreign missions only if God grants that we first become reunited in the faith in our western world. For that we hope and pray” . He desired deeply that there be mutual understanding, respect, peace and tolerance among churches.
Fr. Arnold was not entirely free from the anxiety of many Catholics who were convinced that other forms of Christianity were false or inadequate. He was fully immersed in winning back the separated brethren through dialogue, prayer and sacrifices. He composed a long antiphonal prayer with fourteen petitions among whom for heretics and separated Christians, for the conversion of Jews and Mohammedans. He offered Masses for Christian unity and Christian reunion of Germany and asked others to do so. His approach to this problem was, from the viewpoint of faith, the greatest promise for certain and lasting results – prayer. He was a great composer of prayers and used this inborn gift for spreading the message of unity. It was not only through prayer and sacrifice but also through funds that he supported this cause as is evident in the way he used the proceeds from the sale of the prayer manual.
St. Boniface Society was founded by Count Stolberg in 1849 when Arnold was growing up, with the express aim of supporting Catholicism in largely Protestant areas of Germany. The primary goal of Boniface Society was to collect funds and gather support for the German Diaspora. By Diaspora, Nineteenth Century Germany did not mean only scattered German population abroad, but also pockets of Catholic population within Germany in dominantly Protestant areas. St. Boniface Society opened and supported missions and schools, erected churches and parish-houses for Catholics in the Protestant parts of Germany. Founder Janssen had many interactions and collaborative relationship with this Society for the printing and publication of the booklet called Apostleship of Prayer. In 1874 and 1875 he had his mission magazine “Kleiner Herz Jesu Bote” (Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart) printed by the Boniface Printing Press in Paderborn. He prayed earnestly for unity among Christians and used prayer booklets to spread the message of Christian unity which in his days meant mostly unity among Protestants and Catholic. He began to collect funds to have a Mass offered daily at the tomb of St. Boniface in Fulda for the reunion of German Christians.
Arnold Janssen set out to promote unity among Christians by taking up very concrete measures such as the circulation of prayer leaflets, holding conferences and spreading literature on Christian unity. As a zealous advocate of the reunification of divided German Christians, the first of the two intentions of the mission magazine was the reunification of divided Church. In this he paves way for the contemporary efforts in dialogue and communion in an exemplary manner. Arnold had great interest in foreign peoples, their cultures and ways. In what may be called a dialogue of life and action, he was deeply sensitive to human misery viz a viz the compassionate, merciful nature of God. He believed that God did not send an idea or wish to save the world, he sent Jesus. Pope Francis also says in Fratelli Tutti that we do not serve ideas, we serve people. In a very real and meaningful way, Arnold Janssen may be called the pioneer of modern ecumenical unity.
Founder Janssen had an amazing capacity to imagine and visualize the shape of things to come in the long run. He was adept at mission planning and execution. Having weighed the pros and cons of a decision, he was able to plan well in advance with meticulous attention to details for the foreseeable future. He had the courage to believe in the possibility of a good and positive outcome, the prudence to avoid hurried and emotionally driven decisions, the humility to acknowledge erroneous choices and the wisdom not to repeat the same mistakes. He sets a unique example in establishing appropriate contacts and connections with the right persons on the right matters. However, in spite of his thorough planning and painstaking effort which left little to chance, Fr. Arnold was a man who took to heart and lived the concept of Missio Dei in all earnestness without in any way inhibiting human initiative and industry. Faith, prayer and sacrifices for mission were just as important for missionary fruitfulness as planning and action on the ground. Optimism and joy permeated all the decisions even when things on the ground gave no reason to conclude that the future could be better. Because of these enduring qualities of hope and optimism Pope John Paul ll at the canonization of Arnold Janssen called him “the champion of evangelization”.
The Founder had the courage to believe in the possibility of a positive outcome, the prudence to avoid hurried and emotionally driven decisions, the humility to acknowledge erroneous choices and the wisdom not to repeat the same mistakes. Optimism permeated all his decisions even when things on the ground gave no reason to conclude that the future could be better. He refused to be left dejected even when situations in some missions were appalling as is evident from some of the correspondences to superiors and confreres. Some of the initiatives of our Founder such as the printing press, the retreats in Steyl, the publicity for the Mission House, Programmes for vocation promotion, mission funding and mission animation were new and daring steps whose immediate and direct benefits were not visible to many at the time. Pope Francis exhorts all faithful to respond creatively and generously to the pressing needs of our world.
The Church as a community sent forth into the world, does not live apart from history. Similarly, the lives of the saints are not limited to their earthly biographies but also include their being and working in God after death. Historicity gives the Congregation roots, identity, reliability, reference, tradition and stories. Historical reliability strengthens the theological argument to interpret the charism and spirituality of the congregation in newer and more relevant ways for later times. It may be noted that successive generations may find many of these facts irrelevant and boring unless they are also inspiring. The inspirational value goes beyond the limitations of time because of its durability, universality, inner vitality and quality of permanence.
The Founding Generations carefully consolidated and treasured the rich spiritual and historical inheritance of the Founder and the First Mothers and bequeathed to the successive generations a legacy that can both instruct and animate. Over time the succeeding generations took care to sift the kernel from the chaff, the essential from the variables and to safeguard both constancy and change. It has since then been a constant endeavor to send the roots deep down in God while strengthening the wings in responsible freedom for relevant response. Some of the burning issues of the 19th and 20th Centuries have continued to influence missiological imagination even today as they are still existent in varying degrees and manners.
The tradition of dialogue has been kept alive by the Divine Word Missionaries, through their General Chapters of a more recent past. Prophetic Dialogue and Living the Prophetic Dialogue have been the themes of their General Chapters of 2000 and 2006 respectively. Over the years they developed an elaborate theology and practice of dialogue as a relevant path for mission. The SSpS in their General Chapter Directions also emphasized the significance of dialogue stating “our efforts to promote universal communion would be incomplete without building bridges of friendship with people of other beliefs. Sharing our stories allows us to discover the God of many names and faces. We reverently enter into a dialogue of life and action with people of other beliefs”. They devoted the year 2018 to promoting communion with others and launched programmes aimed at encountering people of other religious traditions and faiths through respectful dialogue.
The three congregations of the Arnoldus Family have come a long way from the time of the Founder and the Founding generation: However, the founding spirituality and values continue to inspire, animate and motivate members down the years. There were times when I have questioned if there was sufficient appreciation in some SSpS circles of the congregational foundational spirituality and legacy. I believe the Arnold Janssen Website and a possible future structure of Arnold Janssen Spirituality will offer fresh opportunities to keep ourselves abreast with our spiritual inheritance and to spread it boldly.
Fratelli Tutti exhorts us to rise to the occasion with concrete steps. The World Council of Churches has unity and fellowship as its core values. Arnold Janssen rose up to the challenge of his times with prayer, sacrifice and action. The Congregations founded by Arnold Janssen have from their very inception been at the service of the poor and the most vulnerable. However, today they are thrown into situations ever new and ever urgent that require of them new and prompt responses. Our Founder responded creatively and courageously to the risk posed by Kulturkampf and believed that if God willed a particular difficulty for Germany, then within it also lay the capacity to bring forth something new and good. Today we and the entire world and the Church are faced with social, religious and cultural plurality and diversity that demand extraordinary courage, hope and creativity in mission. Openness to others remains the hallmark of the people of the wholly other God. Mission and unity are intertwined. Jesus prayed: “may they be one even as we are one… that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21). The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity, unites people and churches, provides both the dynamic context and the resources needed for people to explore differences in a safe, positive and nurturing environment and to grow into an inclusive and mutually responsible community.
Sr. Mary John comes from the SSpS South Province of India. Since 2014 she is serving the congregation as assistant general. She was mission secretary in the Generalate from 2003-2010. Her professional field is in Missiology (PhD).
 Ibid., 38.
 Herman Sandkamp SVD, The Spirituality of Our Founder, (USA: Techny, 1948), 136.
 Fritz Bornemann SVD, Arnold Janssen: Founder of Three Missionary Congregations, 1837-1909, A Biography (Manila: Arnoldus Press, 1975), 27-34
 Arnold Jansen’s ecumenism was a spiritual ecumenism with emphasis on prayer and sacrifices. A comparison with modern day inter- religious dialogue may be far- fetched.
 Pope John Paul ll during the canonization ceremony of Arnold Janssen, (Rome, October 5th, 2003).
A very inspiring and encouraging article!
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