By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis has called on all Christians to overcome the temptation to make their own cultural paradigms absolute and get caught up in partisan interests noting that our ecumenical journey is preceded and accompanied by an ecumenism of blood that urges us to go forward on the path to full Christian unity.
The Pope was addressing the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in Geneva as well as a number of ecumenical delegates, civil authorities and members of the papal entourage.
His speech represented the highlight of his one-day visit to Geneva where he is marking the 70th anniversary of the WCC.
Gratitude for those who paved the way
Francis began his discourse giving thanks to those who paved the way that allows us to come together today as brothers and sisters “choosing the path of forgiveness and sparing no effort to respond to the Lord’s will ‘that all may be one’.
He said that out of love for Jesus “they did not allow themselves to be mired in disagreements, but instead looked courageously to the future, believing in unity and breaking down barriers of suspicion and of fear”.
He praised the World Council of Churches that, he said, was born in service to the ecumenical movement, which itself originated in a powerful summons to mission: for how can Christians proclaim the Gospel, Francis noted, if they are divided among themselves?
Missionary mandate of all Christians
He expressed his concern that perhaps, today, ecumenism and mission are no longer so closely intertwined as they were at the beginning, and reminded those present that the missionary mandate of all Christians determines our very identity.
“Faith in Jesus Christ is not the fruit of consensus, nor can the People of God be reduced to a non-governmental organization” he said, pointing out that the gift we are called to offer is the knowledge of Christ and the power of his resurrection.
“This is the treasure that we […] must offer to our world, so beloved yet so deeply troubled” he said.
Francis said that what is really needed is a new evangelical outreach and expressed his conviction that an increased missionary impulse will lead us to greater unity.
Commitment of the Catholic Church
The Pope reaffirmed the commitment of the Catholic Church to the cause of ecumenism and reflected briefly on the motto chosen for this day: Walking, Praying and Working Together.
Regarding Walking, he said that we must walk ‘In’ so as to move constantly to the center to acknowledge that we are branches grafted onto the one vine who is Jesus; and ‘Out’ towards the many existential peripheries of today’s world, in order to join in bringing the healing grace of the Gospel to our suffering brothers and sisters.
As for Praying, he said, prayer is the oxygen of ecumenism: “Without prayer, communion becomes stifling and makes no progress, because we prevent the wind of the Spirit from driving us forward”.
Finally Working together: here, he said, “I would like to reaffirm that the Catholic Church acknowledges the special importance of the work carried out by the Faith and Order Commission and desires to keep contributing to that work through the participation of highly qualified theologians”.
The Pope said that “the quest of Faith and Order for a common vision of the Church, together with its work of studying moral and ethical issues, touch areas crucial for the future of ecumenism”.
Call to heed the cry of those who suffer
Francis concluded his address noting that for all Christians the way to follow the Master is to serve – not to be served – and this is witnessed also by the “broad gamut of services provided by the member churches of the World Council”.
“The credibility of the Gospel, he said, is put to the test by the way Christians respond to the cry of all those, in every part of the world, who suffer unjustly from the baleful spread of an exclusion that, by generating poverty, foments conflicts”.
Calling for concrete action for the more vulnerable who are increasingly marginalized, lacking their daily bread, employment and a future, while the rich are fewer and ever more wealthy, the Pope said: “Let us be challenged to compassion by the cry of those who suffer”.
Ecumenism of blood
He invited those present to “see what we can do concretely, rather than grow discouraged about what we cannot” and to “look to our many brothers and sisters in various parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, who suffer because they are Christians. Let us draw close to them. May we never forget that our ecumenical journey is preceded and accompanied by an ecumenism already realized, the ecumenism of blood, which urges us to go forward”.
He encouraged all Christians “to overcome the temptation to absolutize certain cultural paradigms and get caught up in partisan interests” and to heed the summons to responsible service of the human family and the protection of creation.
“Let us ask ourselves: What can we do together? If a particular form of service is possible, why not plan and carry it out together, and thus start to experience a more intense fraternity in the exercise of concrete charity?”