Thousands of Christians from across Europe are gathered in Stuttgart, Germany, for one of the largest ecumenical gatherings on the continent.
Upon the opening of the "Together for Europe 2007" conference on Thursday, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, hailed the event with "great joy."
In a message to delegates, Kobia expressed his hope that their experience would enable Christians "to continue growing together in a spirituality of unity and love."
Co-moderated by Archbishop Dr. Anastasios of Tirana, a WCC president and head of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, the event has been promoted by more than 170 Christian movements and communities from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant confessions. In addition, a number of European church leaders and politicians are expected to participate.
"We have seen the encouraging outcomes of your last meeting: the fruits of the co-operation of Christian communities and organizations in the spirit of unity across the still existing divisions between church families," Kobia said in his message celebrating the encounter.
"Together for Europe 2007" is the second gathering of its kind. The first such meeting in Stuttgart took place in May 2004.
This year more than 12,000 Christians are expected to gather from all over Europe throughout the three days. They will celebrate "the vital contribution made to the well-being of the continent by groups, movements and associations that dedicate themselves to tackling exclusion and strengthening social cohesion in Europe's cities and regions," according to the organizers.
The meeting in Stuttgart acknowledges and reflects a "new Europe," Kobia expressed in his message.
Europe is "redefining its boundaries" and "beginning to wake up to the challenges of climate change, water scarcity and the loss of bio-diversity," according to the WCC head.
After colonizing parts of Africa, South America and the Caribbean, in Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East, Europe is "now facing the moral obligation of mediating the wars and conflicts and of receiving migrants and refugees," Kobia added.
Highlights of the event will be transmitted live from Stuttgart, and the broadcast is to be shown on a giant screen on Saturday, May 12, at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.