Pope Francis makes an ecumenical visit for the World Council of Churches’ 70th anniversary
Pope Francis made a landmark ecumenical day trip to Geneva on 21 June as part of celebrations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches(WCC) – the global body representing over 560 million Christians. The theme of the visit, which was aimed at bolstering ecumenical relations, was an “Ecumenical Pilgrimage – Walking, Praying and Working Together.”
The visit began with a prayer service at the Ecumenical Center chapel in Geneva. In his first official speech after landing, Pope Francis said Christians are called to walk together along the path of the Spirit. noting that walking together requires perpetual conversion and “the renewal of our way of thinking so that it can conform to that of the Holy Spirit.”
It could be said that to walk in this way is to “operate at a loss,” he said, “since it does not adequately protect the interests of individual communities, often closely linked to ethnic identity or split along party lines, whether ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive.’”
Francis said that Christ must be prioritised over any differences that might get in the way of unity. He advised “rejecting worldliness” which causes division among Christians and “opting for a mindset of service and growing in forgiveness.”
The Pope stated:
“We are called to be a people that experiences and shares the joy of the Gospel, praises the Lord and serves our brothers and sisters with hearts burning with a desire to open up horizons of goodness and beauty unimaginable to those who have not been blessed truly to know Jesus.”
Francis added “I am convinced that an increased missionary impulse will lead us to greater unity. Just as in the early days, preaching marked the springtime of the Church, so evangelisation will mark the flowering of a new ecumenical spring.”
“What is really needed is a new evangelical outreach,” Francis stressed. Reflecting on the day’s motto of walking, praying and working together, he also gave some advice: “Let us ask ourselves: How much do we pray for one another? The Lord prayed that we would be one: do we imitate him in this regard?”
Pope Francis was joined by the WCC General Secretary, the Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and the Moderator, Dr Agnes Abuom.
“Today, with this visit, we show that it is possible to overcome divisions and distance, as well as deep conflicts caused by different traditions and convictions of faith. There are several ways from conflict to communion,” said Rev Tveit. “And of course, we have not yet overcome all differences and divisions. Therefore, we pray together that the Holy Spirit will guide us and unite us as we move on. I am deeply moved by being here today together.”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, commented:
“According to Pope Francis, to be open to other churches means first of all brotherhood and closeness. After his election as Pope, I remember, I met him and asked what he would desire for the ecumenism. He replied with only one word, ‘brotherhood.’”
The Cardinal said that friendly and fraternal relationship between different churches is the foundation for ecumenism. Once this is established, he added, the practical ecumenism can follow, in which churches can work together on cultural, political and social issues.
Later that morning, Pope Francis visited the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, which is connected to the World Council of Churches. There, 30 men and women from different countries study theology and share everyday life. The Pope shared an ‘ecumenical lunch,’ blessed by Bishop Swensen, during which they spoke about human rights and against ‘proselytism.’
Although the main purpose of Pope Francis’s trip to Geneva on Thursday was to promote Christian unity, he also engaged in a bit of global peacemaking when he met a delegation of four people from North Korea and four from the South. The Pope has long urged prayers for peace on the Korean peninsula.
The WCC has a long history of bringing North and South Koreans together. It described the outcome of the recent summit as “an important first step back from the brink of nuclear-armed confrontation, and towards a more peaceful and secure future in the region.”
In May, a group of WCCleaders, including General Secretary RevTviet who served as the host of the papal visit, visited Pyongyang at the invitation of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).