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Pope celebrates 70 years of the World Council of Churches in Geneva

29 June 2018


The General Secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit (left), next to Pope Francis, during an ecumenical service of prayers, on Thursday of last week

The General Secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit (left), next to Pope Francis, during an ecumenical service of prayers, on Thursday of l...

POPE FRANCIS has praised the celebration of “human encounter” which he experienced during his visit to the central committee meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, last week.

The WCC marked its 70th anniversary with an ecumenical service of prayer led by its General Secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, on Thursday of last week.

The WCC comprises 346 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, and other Churches, representing more than 550 million Christians in 120 countries. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member, but has worked with the WCC in certain areas for the past 50 years.

The Pope, who attended the service before visiting the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, said afterwards: “Today was an ecumenical day, really ecumenical. . . Not mere courtesy, nothing purely formal, but an encounter between human beings.”

The world was facing a “crisis of hope, crisis of human rights, crisis of mediation, crisis of peace,” Pope Francis continued. He had discussed the need for “unity for peace” between Churches of all denominations with WCC leaders.

Albin Hillert/WCCThe General Secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit (far left), next to Pope Francis, during an ecumenical service of prayers, on Thursday of last week

Pope Francis also met the President of WCC Asia, the Revd Dr Sang Chang, who was the first female Prime Minister in South Korea; and the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, the Revd Dr Lee Hong-jeong.

The Pope ended his visit by celebrating mass in the convention hall of Palexpo, with 30,000 people from the RC community in Switzerland. “The Lord bids us set out ever anew on the path of communion that leads to peace,” he said. “Our lack of unity is, in fact, openly contrary to the will of Christ, but it is also a scandal to the world, and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the gospel to every creature.

“The Lord asks for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity. As one of the principal organisations fostering Christian unity in the world, I came away feeling that the WCC surely does merit our prayers and support.”

Dr Tveit said of the visit: “There are several ways from conflict to communion. 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.”

He had told the Pope in his address: “Your Holiness, your visit is a sign of this hope we share. It is a milestone in the relations among the Churches. We are here as representatives of different Churches and traditions from all over the world.”

The leaders exchanged sculptures — a carved wooden cross and a bronze representation of the crucifixion — each symbolising the need to include people who are marginalised by society: people with disabilities, or the victims of slavery, physical, and moral exploitation.

“For me, to be a peace Church is the mandate of God,” Pope Francis told journalists on the return flight to Rome. “I believe that all the Churches that have this spirit of peace must come together and work together, as we said in our speeches today. Peace is a necessity, because there is risk of a war.”

The next WCC Assembly will be held in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2021.

PAPope Francis greets people before celebrating mass during his one-day visit to the central committee meeting of the World Council of Churches, in Palexpo hall, Geneva, on Thursday of last week

‘We ended with a sense of fellowship’

The Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, reflects on the meeting

AS THE new Church of England representative on the Central Committee, taking over from the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, this was my first full meeting.

With the help of skilled moderation and careful preparation from the staff, we generated official statements on issues ranging from the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, to violence in Colombia, to the situation in Gaza and Jerusalem. And we ended with a sense of joy and deepened fellowship at a service led by our very special guest, Pope Francis.

One of the major subjects addressed during the meeting was the question of the venue for the 2021 WCC Assembly. There was an overwhelming vote in favour of Karlsruhe. It will provide a marvellous opportunity for European Churches, including the Church of England, to support the German Church in staging an assembly at another time in our history when European unity is under threat from rising nationalism.

There were some memorable events during the week-long meeting. For example, we heard the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, preach in the Reformed Cathedral of St Peter’s, Geneva; and we were addressed by the chair of the Christian Federation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Revd Myong Chol Kang, who shared a platform with the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (South Korea), the Revd Hong Jung Lee.

Does any of this make a real difference, and how seriously should the Church of England engage with it? These are serious questions. I regret that the WCC does not represent more of the Charismatic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal Churches, especially since these are the fastest-growing traditions today. There was a time when such groups might have been right to suspect the WCC of being “liberal”.

Today, it could well be described as “radical”, with its keen commitment to justice for the poor, racial equality, and opposition to gender-based violence. But, with a 25-per-cent Orthodox membership, and a “consensus” rather than majority voting system, there was not the slightest chance that anything looking doctrinally “revisionist” was going to make it through the various committees.

The public-issues committee, of which I was a member, produced no less than eight statements on world affairs. To those coming from the affected countries and regions, these statements really matter. A Filipino bishop told me that our statement decrying the culture of violence and “impunity” in the Philippines would bring great encouragement to Filipino Christians to know that their fellow believers in the “West” understood, cared, and stood with them in their suffering.

It was a full week of careful and attentive listening to those from different cultural backgrounds, and sometimes very different theological perspectives. For example, I had not previously realised that the word “Renewal”, much beloved of the Church of England, is regarded with horror by the Orthodox when applied to the Church.

I would dare to believe, and as the President of South Korea encouraged us to believe from his experience of Christian dialogue on the Korean peninsula, the WCC is of real value in the grand cause of world peace.

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