Dr B and I have escaped Ferney Voltaire and Paris and we are in the glorious city of Assisi. Of course we travelled by train - wonderful! Difficult to even begin to describe how lovely and fascinating it is. Photos to follow I promise - I took so many today and last night as we wandered from church to Basilica to cafe and from one stunning sun-drenched view to another - yes I admit some wine may have been involved. I always say I only have three words of Italian "Pizza, pasta and prosecco".
We are here on holiday but attending an international ecumenical conference "Where we dwell in common, pathways for dialogue in the 21st century". And yes finally, despite many promises to the contrary, it seems to be galvanising me back into blogging. Let's see if it lasts. We are staying at the Domus Pacis which is right next door to the amazing Porziuncola basilica - I even made it there at 6.30am for lauds this morning. This afternoon we returned there for the conference's opening prayers which included a stirring sing of "All creatures of our God and King" one of the best loved English versions of St Francis' wonderful Canticle of creatures or Canticle of the sun.
At the introductory session late this afternoon, Gerard Manion, who together with Ecclesiological Investigations, is the very lively emminence grise behind the event, gave us a useful introduction to what he referred to as one and a half track ecumenism. Now if like me you haven't been keeping up to date on the latest diplomatic and international terminology (not really something a translator should admit to) you may not quite know what this is about (there are some good definitions here). The idea is to think about two sets of railway tracks which run parallel to one another, track one might be the high level diplomats or heads of states (in church or ecumenical terms perhaps heads of churches, institutions, training facilities, universities etc), track two might be civil society actors, or warring factions in a conflict (in ecumenical terms this might be your grassroots, those teaching young people say, practioners, campaigners, organisers, the young peoplethemselves, you can make your own list depending on different contexts). One and a half track is where we try to get the parallel tracks to cross over. I always love seeing that on railway lines when one line joins another or crosses over it - the lines make such lovely patterns and I've always been fascinated by points and getting trains to go in particular tracks. Anyway, one and a half track is about the transformational act and possibilities which open up when you dare to try and get crossover between the different tracks.
What I really like about the image is that it is essentially very simple and that it comes from a strong conflict resolution background. It is also based on the idea that ecumenism is not just for the specialists, it needs the contributions of all involved to renew the pathways to dialogue for the century ahead.
What was really great about this introduction is that I can now also see that in a small way Gerard Mannion also put this into practice by asking each of the people on the organising committee to share a hope for the conference with the plenary. It's a model which sees real interplay between people, theologians and leaders. You'll gather I quite like it, certainly gave me food for thought, but there's more to come. Yes, that's right. no blog posts for months and then just like the 38 bus, three come along all at once! Meanwhile hope you like the graphic which comes from the Ecclesiological Investigations website.