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Message delivered in audience with Pope Francis

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit's speech during his audience with Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican, Rome, on 7 March 2014.

07 March 2014

Your Holiness, Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome

We greet you on behalf of the World Council of Churches, the fellowship of 345 member churches including Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches in more than 110 countries. Together with senior colleagues from Geneva, I thank you for this opportunity to meet with you, our brother in Christ, together with His Eminence Cardinal Koch, and other dear colleagues from the Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

We are all included in the prayer of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: “That they all may be one!” (John 17:21) Today we give thanks to God that we in the one ecumenical movement, to which also the Catholic Church contributes substantially and faithfully, see significant expressions of being one, although not yet a full visible unity. Through important studies in the WCC we can affirm that:  mutually we recognize the one baptism; we do confess together the one faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and the churches are sent into the world with the one common call to serve.

I believe that in our time God is opening new ways for us to unity, and for how the world can see our communion in Christ, particularly in the ways we can serve the world together. The WCC rejoices that the call to work for justice and peace, in deep Christian solidarity and for the benefit of all human beings, is seen as a Gospel imperative by so many parts of the Christian family.

Your Holiness, today we want to thank you for the way you invite Christians around the world to not be preoccupied with ourselves but to freely share the love of God in words and ministry. When we as staff of the WCC studied your recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, we were impressed by your accent on the joy of sharing the Gospel. You also convince us that this is possible, through your personal tone, coloured by your ministry as pastor and bishop in Buenos Aires and in Rome. We particularly have noticed how you call on us to remember the poor, and therefore to work for economic justice.

The Faith and Order convergence text on The Church: Towards a Common Vision (2013) clearly speaks of the Servant church. In our recent statement about mission, Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in a Changing Landscape, we also emphasize how the church must be inclusive, sharing in a mission from the margins.

The WCC recently held its 10th Assembly, in Busan, Korea, and we thank you for your significant greeting (conveyed through His Eminence, Cardinal Koch). The prayer of the Assembly was “God of Life, lead us to justice and peace”. The Assembly agreed on a text about our call to unity, searching humbly for the gift of unity as an expression of the life for which God has created us, and for which the church is called to be a sign.

The Assembly committed the fellowship of the churches in the WCC to join in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace as the main emphasis of our work. The Assembly invited all churches, and all people of good will, to join us. In our time, we see how the world needs and asks for people and leaders of faith that humbly and courageously can contribute to solutions to the conflicts and crises of the world. Therefore, Your Holiness, we are grateful particularly for your leadership and your accompaniment and for being so committed and sensitive to the needs for justice and peace in our world.

Of particular urgency for the WCC are questions in the areas of climate change and the Economy of Life. The future of humanity is threatened; the poorest among us are already feeling the worst consequences of them. We encourage you and the Roman Catholic Church to be with us in mobilizing a real change of mind, heart and priorities, in government, business and civil society, particularly as a response to the call from the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki- Moon this year.

At the end of the first Assembly of the WCC in 1948, the churches declared their intent to “stay” together. At the 2013 Assembly, the churches declared their intent to “move” together. Or, as you have said in Italian: Avanti!

The entire fellowship of the WCC, but especially our Orthodox brothers and sisters, remembers the two historic pilgrims of justice and peace who met in Jerusalem in 1964, your predecessor Pope Paul VI, and the Oecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. All Christians rejoice in your pilgrimage to Jerusalem this year to meet your brother, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

For many years the WCC has worked and prayed for peace for Jerusalem and all the peoples living there. We know that religion and faith play a significant role in the conflict in what should be a city of peace. We believe that only peace with justice in a shared city of three religions, and Israel and Palestine as two independent states, can bring an end to the occupation and the violence in this region. We heartily appreciate that you are going there as a pilgrim at a time urgently calling for a sustainable conclusion to the peace process. Your call for prayers for the people in Syria and other places have been warmly supported by our member churches, and as WCC we do what we can to nurture the hope of peace with justice for the people of Syria and for the future presence and witness of the Christian churches in the Middle East.

We commit ourselves to continue to pray for you - and with you and St Francis of Assisi - that God will make us instruments of His peace.

May the Triune God of life continue to bless your ministry with great joy, your Holiness, and may God grant us all many opportunities of joint service for unity, justice and peace.

WCC general secretary
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit