A year has now passed since the World Council of Churches (WCC) received Pope Francis in Geneva, to celebrate together 70 years of ecumenical work since the WCC’s founding. Yet the impact of the historic day continues to be felt.
It was 21 June 2018 when the WCC Central Committee concluded its biennial deliberations, only to receive moments later a visit by Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church.
Gathered under the theme of Ecumenical Pilgrimage – Walking, Praying and Working together, the day saw a joint prayer service, a visit to the Ecumenical Institute, and an ‘ecumenical encounter’, with Pope Francis and WCC leadership speaking on the history of the ecumenical movement and the way ahead on the path towards Christian unity.
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit looked back at the meeting and said “Pope Francis gave a strong affirmation of the reality of the one, global, ecumenical movement, and of the role of the World Council of Churches serving this wonderful fellowship and its common calling.”
WCC central committee members gathered in the Ecumenical Centre chapel for an ecumenical prayer with Pope Francis. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC
Ecumenical prayer service underway in the Ecumenical Centre chapel. Photo: Magnus Aronson/WCC
“For us as Christians, walking together is not a ploy to strengthen our own positions, but an act of obedience to the Lord and love for our world. Let us ask the Father to help us walk together all the more resolutely in the ways of the Spirit,” said the pope on the day.
“I wanted to take part personally in the celebrations marking this anniversary of the World Council, not least to reaffirm the commitment of the Catholic Church to the cause of ecumenism and to encourage cooperation with the member churches and with our ecumenical partners,” Francis added.
Pope Francis speaks at the ‘ecumenical encounter’, in the Visser ‘t Hooft Hall of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC
“I am grateful that we were able in 2018 to celebrate the WCC’s 70th anniversary, its ecumenical legacy, and the fruits of Christian fellowship among our member churches,” reflected WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in retrospect.
“Indeed, the historic visit of Pope Francis on 21 June was emblematic of our work and an affirmation of the shared ecumenical journey of “Walking, Praying and Working Together,” a pilgrimage that embraces Christians of all regions and confessions,” Tveit added.
Pope Francis received the gift of a wooden cross at Château de Bossey. Photo: Joanna Lindén-Montes/WCC
At the Ecumenical Institute and Chateau de Bossey, Pope Francis received gifts from the WCC in the form of a carved wooden cross sculpted for the pontiff’s visit by Karim Okiki, a 33-year-old deaf man from Kenya, with facilitation from the WCC-Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, as well as a version of 'the Bossey icon', showing the diversity of Christianity around the world, but 'always with Christ in the middle'.
The Pope was then received by students and staff at the Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey.
Pope Francis greets students and staff of the Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey. Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
And memories of the historic visit continue to resonate with churches around the world.
WCC central committee members share a moment together in anticipation of the Pope’s arrival. Photo: Marie Renaux/WCC
Returning again to the Château de Bossey for its May 2019 meeting, WCC Executive Committee members recalled how the visit of Pope Francis contributed to making the year of 2018 an extraordinary one in the life of the WCC – and one that affirmed the vitality and visibility of the fellowship of churches.