The public lecture took place on 23 February, and those gathered expressed deep appreciation for Sauca’s work within the WCC, which began when he joined the WCC in 1994 as executive secretary for Orthodox Studies and Relationship in Mission.
“In his capacity as acting general secretary, he has strengthened the relationships of the WCC with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches,” noted WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay. “He visited churches affected by war, conflicts, and tensions in Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and the Holy Land, being guided by a strong belief in the power of dialogue on the path towards reconciliation.”
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed gratitude for Sauca’s unwavering commitment to the cause of Christian unity for so many years.
“I am convinced that it would be difficult to find anyone as prepared and competent as Professor Sauca to address this subject,” said Koch. “Indeed, from his youth he was professionally dedicated to the service of Christian unity by serving the ecumenical movement on various levels and in different roles, notably within the World Council of Churches in Geneva where, for more than three decades, he assumed various responsibilities, the last acting general secretary.”
It should also be noted, Koch added, that “in the last months of his mandate, Father Sauca was the author of various initiatives aimed at the peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine and at reconciliation within the Orthodox Church.”
Students from the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Institute for Orthodox Theology in Chambésy, and the Faculty of Theology in Fribourg also participated in the special event.
As Sauca began his lecture, he noted that one day he may write memoirs and a full story. “The most important learning for me during this tenure, but also a surprise and an eye-opener, came from the socio-political challenges that our churches live in today and their expectations from the WCC,” he said.
Churches expect the WCC to have a strong prophetic voice, said Sauca. “Most requests for help were related to healing wounds, bringing about reconciliation, and building bridges towards unity, justice, and peace.”
Fundamentally, he said, the real importance of the WCC’s work is grounded in our faith identity. “I believe the pandemic has strengthened the spiritual dimension of our work and our togetherness as a fellowship of churches,” he said. “It helped us overcome the illusory division between activists and pietists, between faith and concrete actions in dealing with world issues based on and because of our faith.”
He described the WCC as a spiritual-based organization. “The heart of our fellowship is the spirituality we share as the flame that fuels our drive for justice and sparks our work for peace and unity,” he said. “Over these three years, I have seen how important it is to speak with a spiritual language in WCC statements and speeches, a language that people in the churches can identify with but which is also recognized by people in other faith communities.”
The world expects the WCC to make a difference, he said. “In responding to the hardships of our times, we need one another, we depend on one another, and we can only advance if we walk together, not in separation,” he said. “Therefore, I would dare to say that if the WCC did not exist, we would have to invent or reinvent it today.”
The WCC is vital, and the ecumenical movement will continue, but it will look very different from what we were used to and how it was imagined at its inception, Sauca reflected. “Today’s world, marked by post-modern values and mega-trends and concerns, brings new challenges to the older ecumenical paradigms which were coined in a different historical and contextual situation,” he said. “Therefore, the older paradigms of Christian unity in relation to the major political and social trends of the time, as promoted by the WCC since its beginning, are considered by the younger generation today as arrogant, imperialistic, centralised unity which expects the dilution of identities and differences.”
The call to unity is not an option—it is imperative and a vocation, said Sauca. “It is the very desire of Christ and the heart of the Gospel’s message,” he said. “We either like it or not.”
"What Future for the Ecumenical Movement?", by Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca (also available in French and German)