Pope to visit Geneva for World Council of Churches anniversary
By Philippa Hitchen
Pope Francis will travel to Geneva on June 21st to mark the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. The announcement was made on Friday at a press conference in the Vatican by the WCC General Secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit and by Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The WCC was founded in 1948 with a membership of 147 Christian Churches, largely in Europe and North America. Today it brings together 348 members in countries across the globe, including most of the world's Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.
Since 1965 the Catholic Church has worked closely together with the WCC through a Joint Working Group, as well as through participation in specific commissions or practical initiatives.
Ahead of the press conference, Philippa Hitchen spoke to Rev Fykse Tveit to find out more the significance of this historic papal visit
The WCC leader says the papal visit “will be a very special way of affirming these 70 years of working and praying together for the unity of the Church, and also to find ways for common Christian witness and service for justice and peace in the world”.
He notes that the visit will take place at the conclusion of the Central Committee meeting, which happens every two years. The Pope will address participants and pray together with them in the ecumenical centre in Geneva. There will also be extensive media coverage, allowing as wide a possible audience to “see and hear what this visit means for the WCC and for the whole ecumenical movement”.
'Walking, praying, working together'
Rev. Fykse Tveit says the visit marks a “very strong affirmation” by the Pope and by the Catholic Church that “we are actually working together, but not only working, also praying and walking together, which will be the motto of the visit.”
He says this relationship has developed over many years of cooperation through the Joint Working Group, but also through “a very strong common agenda” of witnessing for peace, justice and reconciliation in the world. He adds that Pope Francis has placed a strong emphasis on ministry and mission, bringing “some new impetus and new initiatives” so “we see also his coming to Geneva as another sign of his strong agenda for finding the ways forward together”.
Fruitful interaction of theology and service
Rev. Fykse Tveit says he hopes the visit will be a great inspiration for Churches all over the world to find new ways of expressing what they already share and do together. He says it will “give new inspiration, legitimacy and power” to what is already going on.
The WCC leader reflects on the “fruitful” relationship between theological, doctrinal reflection and practical or spiritual ecumenism, saying “you cannot divide these into separate boxes”. He adds that “we’ve seen many fruits of different dimensions of the ecumenical movement, but now we are realizing that when we pray and serve and witness for peace together, this “also has an implication on how we understand what it means to be Church”.
Progess on Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry
Reflecting on the greatest achievements of the past 70, Rev. Fykse Tveit points to key texts like the document on Baptism Eucharist and Ministry, which he notes was developed in the Faith and Order Commission, of which the Catholic Church is a full member. He also recalls last year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation, noting the significance of that “common commemoration”.
Agents of peace, protecting migrants
Pointing to the task of the Church in proving prophetic witness to the world, he said the continuing fight against racism, and the need to defend the dignity of migrants and refugees are among the key challenges facing Christians today. Finally, he stressed the urgency of continuing to be “agents of peace” in places of violence and conflict, especially in countries like war-torn Syria.