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Visiting the World Council of Churches: Pope Francis arrives in Geneva for “voyage towards unity”

Visiting the World Council of Churches: Pope Francis arrives in Geneva for “voyage towards unity”

Pope Francis arriving in Geneva airport. Photo: Joanna Lindén-Montes/WCC

21 June 2018

By Stephen Brown*

Pope Francis has arrived in Geneva on what he has described as a “voyage towards unity” to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches, which brings together 350 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 550 million Christians in over 120 countries.

Shortly after 10:00 local time on 21 June, the airplane carrying Pope Francis touched down at Geneva airport for the one-day visit.

Travelling with the pope in a plane decorated with the papal coat of arms was a 60-strong contingent of journalists, photographers and camera personnel from news agencies, television and radio stations, newspapers and religious media, collectively known as the VAMP or “Vatican Accredited Media Personnel.”

Members of the media travelling to Geneva gathered at Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 05:30 local time for check-in and security, boarding well before the pope.

About 35 minutes into the 90 minute flight, Pope Francis appeared in the section of the airplane reserved for journalists where he thanked them for their work and their contribution to the success of the visit.

“It’s a journey toward unity, the desire for unity,” said the pope, speaking in Italian, before greeting the journalists individually.

The meeting of Pope Francis with the WCC is described as an “ecumenical pilgrimage,” with the motto “Walking, praying and working together,” and marks 70 years since the WCC’s founding assembly in 1948 in Amsterdam.

“Pope Francis is coming to Geneva specifically to celebrate this important anniversary for the World Council of Churches,” said Carol Glatz, Rome correspondent for the Catholic News Service and one of the Vatican-accredited journalists travelling with the pope.

It is the third papal visit to the WCC. However, when Pope Paul VI visited in 1969 it was part of a trip to Geneva to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Labour Organization and in 1984 Pope John Paul II was undertaking a pastoral visit to Switzerland.

Nicolas Senèze, the Vatican correspondent of the French daily La Croix, who is also accompanying the pope to Geneva, noted that the pontiff has many platforms available in Geneva where he would have been able to address the issues that are important to him.

These include the World Health Organization for issues of life and the future of health, the International Labour Organization for matters related to the dignity of work, the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees on questions related to refugees and migration, or the United Nations itself on the issue of peace.

“But he specifically wanted to dedicate this visit to the World Council of Churches,” said Senèze. “It was a personal choice of the pope who clearly wanted to avoid any other issue eclipsing the ecumenical dimension of this day in Geneva.”

* Stephen Brown, the editor of the quarterly journal of the World Council of Churches, The Ecumenical Review, is travelling on the papal plane with Pope Francis.

Visit of Pope Francis to the World Council of Churches

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High resolution photos from the visit