By Linda Bordoni
The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches said Pope Francis’ visit is “a very strong recognition of the work done in the past 70 years”.
Pope Francis travels to Geneva on Thursday 21 June on a visit that is being dubbed an “ecumenical pilgrimage” during which he will mark the 70th anniversary from the foundation of the WCC.
During his day in Geneva the Pope will participate in an ecumenical encounter at WCC headquarters, he will lead an ecumenical prayer service and he will lunch at the WCC’s Bossey Ecumenical Institute, as well as meet privately with the President of the Swiss Confederation and l celebrate Holy Mass at the Palaexpo convention center before departing for Rome.
The WCC is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity.
It brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians and including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. Today it includes 350 member churches.
Speaking to Vatican News, Rev. Dr. Olaf Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches said the Pope’s desire to mark the Council’s 70th anniversary in person is a powerful sign of his consideration for the work being done by the churches to achieve full Christian Unity.
Rev. Dr. Tveit said that by accepting the WCC’s invitation, not only is Pope Francis recognizing the work the WCC has achieved during the past 70 years, he is also highlighting the value of the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Council.
“We have had a joint working group and we have worked in many ways together but now he affirms it with his own presence” he said.
This, he said, is seen and recognized and appreciated very much by the WCC, but also by member churches around the world. And this visit, he added, will certainly have a very positive effect also on relationships both on the local and national level in many different contexts around the world.
“It’s not just about Geneva and the Vatican . This is about how we are Church together in many places. If the Pope can come and visit the WCC, why cannot our member churches and the Catholic Church be together in many places in the world?” he said.
Regarding the journey accomplished by the WCC in the 70 years since its foundation, Tveit said “we are definitely in another place than we were 70 years ago”.
“What they could hardly even imagine then, is almost taken for granted now” he said.
And this, he explained, regards the type of relationship that exists between the churches today, how many have found common ground and expressed their unity in many ways.
“I think we also can see that these 70 years have been a long pilgrimage during which we have learnt a lot about what it means to live with diversity, with differences, but still have a strong common calling and common vision, and some very important common experiences” he said.
We have learnt from our experiences, Tveit concluded, how to reconcile but also how to speak the truth to one another: “and in this the fellowship has grown”