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50th anniversary of the JWG

Greetings by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit on the 50th anniversary of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC.

24 June 2015

Greetings delivered by the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at a public event on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC.

23 June 2015, Centro Pro Unione, Rome

To the Repairers and the Restorers

Your Eminences, Your Excellences, dear colleagues and friends, sisters and brothers in Christ,

“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of the streets to live in.” Isaiah 58:12. 

A Joint Working Group: This is a modest name for a significant undertaking. To be identified by the task to work might not immediately bring somebody to glorious titles or to the celebrities’ list. However, work gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and to be a worker is a matter of dignity. It represents a privilege to use gifts and talents for something useful for others. So, actually it sounds like something solid, practical and productive: A Joint Working Group. It even gives connotations to the apostolic mentioning of being the co-workers in the Lord. And it resonates with the words of the Prophet: “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in.” These are the most honourable titles for as the ecumenist: Repairer and restorer. Solid and honest work is needed to bring anything that matters forward, to repair what is broken, to make life safe and pleasant in the house and to restore the means of communications and life’s viable common spaces.

The results of ordinary work are often not glorified as victory but are even more significant if they bring forward the roads we walk, the bridges that carry us over the dividing fjords, or the tunnels that take us through insurmountable mountains – to use images from my homeland, Norway. Work takes time for anything that is long-lasting.

Therefore, we are grateful and even proud of 50 years of a working group between these great major ecumenical instruments in the world, The Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches. This is something to commemorate and to celebrate together. Many thanks to Your Eminence, Cardinal Kurt Koch, and the staff of the PCPCU, for the preparations of this meaningful event, marking the 50th anniversary of a body that is not so well known in the world, but has been of utmost importance for cooperation between the Roman Catholic Church and the members of the World Council of Churches. Likewise, many thanks for the warm welcome by the co-moderators of the JWG, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Metropolitan Nifon of Targoviste. I would like to thank also Fr James Puglisi for hosting this event at the Centro Pro Unione. We are back to the birthplace of the JWG since it was here (as we have heard) that the observers to the Second Vatican Council met and contributed their insights to the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio and other important texts of the Council. Pope John XXIII announced it as an ecumenical council. A tree is known by its fruits. This Joint Working Group is definitely one of them.

The results that grew out of this beginning of a new era in ecumenical relationships are here now for the benefit of those we represent. The streets and roads must be maintained. That will only happen if they are used regularly. It is our responsibility to foster relationships between the Roman Catholic Church and the fellowship of member churches which is the WCC, and to use the significant ways we have to address issues of community, of cooperation, of common interests of shared concerns, or even issues of controversy or conflict.

In doing so, we continue to work for the visible unity of the Church in response to Jesus’ prayer that they all may be one so that the world may believe.

Looking at the present state of the ecumenical landscape and the world at large, we have to confess that divisions among Christians are there, that we are not sharing the gifts of the Triune God and the fruits of the works of our hands through the holy Eucharistic fellowship. This is a reality when the world needs real signs of communion across any dividing line or wall, and signs of sharing of God’s purpose of life in communion. This is a reality when we should contribute to living together in justice and peace in a world divided by economic inequalities, nationalism, ethnic conflicts or even racism in more or less subtle forms. Unity must be visible to carry its full meaning as the bond of fellowship. Visible Church unity is required to fill our role as Church, as the first fruit of the new creation in Christ, a sign of the one humanity participating in the full life of the Triune God.

However, it is also a reality that there are many dimensions of this visible unity in our lives as churches, in our studies of our common roots of faith, in our sharing of the life and work of our churches, and in facing the urgent realities of today together, through the “existential ecumenism” Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon talked about in his response to the Papal Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’. We are far beyond where we were in 1965, both theologically and practically. The theological efforts and the work on practical and significant issues in our common ministry for unity must supplement one another. As a World Council of Churches we use the metaphor of the way to speak about our common faith, life and ministry as a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.

We are first of all called to be servants and deacons, bringing together what is broken, and heal where it is needed. This requires serious theological dialogue, deep and solid personal relationships, serious efforts to move something together, and new initiatives for those who need the churches speaking and acting together for their rights and their life in peace, shalom. The whole ecumenical work, with advocacy, prayer, mission, reflections on our roots of faith and our traditions, ecumenical formation, promoting just communities of women and men, addressing the need for a sustainability and integrity of Creation; all of this and more are our joint work as deacons of unity, the “repairers” and “restorers”. The unity agenda remains at the heart of all our efforts for common witness and contributions to more justice and peace for people and creation.

We are indeed grateful for the new momentum for our common efforts to manifest our common faith in God the creator, Liberator and Life-giver through last week’s publication of the Papal encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ last week. The title reminds us of Saint Francis’ Canticle of the Sun, his prayer praising God for creation. At the heart of all is our gratitude for God’s love and grace which is the origin of God’s creation and was revealed to us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is why we continue to praise God even in the face of violence and destruction. It is not some form of ideology or activism that compels us to witness for justice and peace, for people and creation, but our faith in the Triune God of all life. This is why we care for earth as our common home as Pope Francis calls us to do, with his encyclical, affirming what we have done in our respective churches and in the WCC initiatives over many years.

It is heartening to see how we now unite also in the work for climate justice in the process leading towards the UN Climate Change Conference later this year in Paris. It’s like a fresh wind for all who will participate in the pilgrimages for climate justice churches are calling for. We are deeply indebted to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Let us today also remember all he has done to motivate and push the churches and the WCC to protect creation in taking a stance for climate justice and the conservation of biodiversity, for more than two decades. He made it crystal clear that “a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and a sin against God.”

As the WCC we have taken initiatives to make Christians and representatives of other faith communities engage together in the care of creation. It is contributing in its own way to greater unity and the common witness of the churches. We cannot underestimate how important it is that by now all major traditions of Christianity have embraced their responsibility for the earth as our common home that we share with each other and all God’s creatures. We are recognizing our common destiny and responsibilities and we share in the vision that God will finally restore the beauty of all creation as it was meant to be, and overcome injustice, violence and war in the way of God’s true justice and true peace.

In response to this vision that holds together the unity of the churches, the unity of humankind and of all creation, the WCC Busan assembly in 2013 encouraged all people of good will to join in a pilgrimage of justice and peace. Frequently Pope Francis speaks of the unity on the way that will grow with our mutual commitment and accountability in following Jesus. And often he reminds us that following Jesus implies not to be afraid of the powers that be, and even not to fear violence and death. Today we are shocked at the new examples of martyrdom. The martyrs of faith are signs of the unity that grows and breaches all.

Expressing our gratitude for the common journey of the JWG over the last 50 years, we need to be aware of this deeper theological reading of our context when we embark on a new phase of our cooperation. What we do cannot have, is business as usual. It must be an expression of our faith and a witness to the love of God revealed in Christ. I hope and pray that our faith in the love and presence of the Triune God will guide all new members of the JWG who start our common work with this meeting in Rome, repairing breaches and restoring streets to live in.

Amen.