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Address to Pope Benedict XVI

By the WCC general secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia

16 June 2005

By the WCC general secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia

Your Holiness,

1. It is a great honour to be here, accompanied by Bishop Eberhardt Renz, from the Evangelical Church in Germany, President of the WCC, and by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa, member of the WCC Central Committee, by my wife Ruth and by members of the WCC staff. Together we represent the wide fellowship of the World Council of Churches.

2. My visit to Rome takes place in a joyful and promising moment, only a few weeks after your election. I would like to reiterate the assurance that our prayers accompany you in the exercise of your ministry, which you have inaugurated with clear signals of hope. I would like to express our deep appreciation for one of your very first messages affirming that you take as your primary task, your ambition and your impelling duty "to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers".

3. My visit also takes place in the perspective of a long history of common commitment to the one ecumenical movement, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate forty years of collaboration between the RCC and the WCC through the Joint Working Group.

4. This has been a long journey of common commitment and collaboration marked by the full and fruitful engagement of the RCC in the WCC's Faith and Order Commission - of which you yourself were a member from 1968-1975 - and by the valued contribution of RCC-appointed staff to the work of the Commission on Mission and Evangelism, and at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey. It has also been a journey marked by historic events. With gratitude I recall here the visits of your much esteemed and fondly remembered predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, to the World Council of Churches. We would be particularly honoured also to receive Your Holiness at the World Council of Churches as yet one more concrete step in our long journey towards visible unity.

5. Being aware of the many challenges of the 21st century, I would like to underline here three areas of capital importance, where our collaboration could bear fruit to the benefit of all churches and of the ecumenical movement as a whole.

5.1. Spirituality. Whether we speak of the "spirituality of the ecumenical movement" or of a "spiritual ecumenism", we ultimately follow Dietrich Boenhoeffer's advice to seek for "a spiritual Archimedean point", a holy ground on which to stand and from which, as Christians, we may be able to exercise leverage on a world in need of transformation and hope. Therefore, through our ecumenical dialogue and cooperation, grounded on the fertile soil of our respective spiritual treasures, we could seek together a stable place of moral clarity and confidence amid today's turbulent human landscape of shifting values, uncertain hopes and crumbling commitments.

5.2. Ecumenical Formation. Ecumenical formation is an imperative today. It invites the younger generation to be informed of, to receive, and to take active part in, the efforts to build community in the one household of God. In the last decades, the relationships between churches have changed radically from isolation to mutual respect, cooperation, and - especially between churches from the Reformation - also eucharistic fellowship. The history of the churches' ecumenical pilgrimage is being constantly enriched. At the same time, however, the classical ways of ecumenical formation are progressively diminishing. Important steps towards visible unity are not being sufficiently communicated, fully received, and put into practice in the lives of the churches.

5.3. Ecclesiology. As one consequence of the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, our fellowship is called to pay renewed attention to the ecclesiological presuppositions lying behind the commitment to Christian unity. Thus, in deep respect for one another, and in the spirit of our member churches' commitment to the fellowship they share within the WCC, we ask our Orthodox member churches: "Is there space for other churches in Orthodox ecclesiology? How would this space and its limits be described?" And, similarly, we ask the churches within the tradition of the Reformation: "How does your church understand, maintain and express your belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?"

5.4 Responses to these fundamental ecclesiological questions will certainly affect whether or not our member churches recognize each other's baptism, as well as their ability or inability to recognize one another as churches. They will also affect the way churches understand the goal of the ecumenical movement and its instruments - including the WCC. Therefore, and for many reasons, we would like to encourage dialogue on these fundamental questions not only within the Faith and Order Commission, but also in our relationships with all our ecumenical partners.

6. The member churches of the WCC are exceedingly diverse. But they are one in their commitment to live out their Christian faith in today's world: to proclaim that faith as a message of hope for humanity; to find strength in that faith to resist the forces of meaninglessness and relativism; to find resources in that faith to resist injustice, and to bring reconciliation and healing to a world in need.

7. We recognize that our faith is more effective and vibrant when it is lived out together with our brothers and sisters in Christ; that our proclamation and prophetic witness, our mission and service are all more effective when we can pray, confess, speak and act together rather than separately. Therefore, in concluding I would like to return to the theme of unity. In baptism Christ has made us His own. In making us his own, Christ has bound each of us inseparably to Himself - and to each other. Because it is rooted not in us but in Christ, our bond of unity is unbreakable. We are one in Christ. May all Christians pray and work together, in order that that our unity may be visible for all the world to see!