The Vatican and the World Council of Churches (WCC) on Tuesday revealed details of the 21 June landmark visit of Pope Francis, a visit the WCC described as “a gift to churches”.
“The visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the World Council of Churches in the year of our 70th anniversary, is an historical milestone in the search for Christian unity and for the cooperation among the churches for a world with peace and justice,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, at a press conference.
Due to illness, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was represented by Rev. Dr Andrzej Choromanski of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who is also a consultant on the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission.
“I think His Holiness wanted to participate in this anniversary to express his gratitude to the ecumenical movement that the WCC has made over 70 years as part of the world church movement,” Choromanski.
“His Holiness is very much invested in the cause of Christian unity. He has said we should aim for an ecumenism that involves us walking together. When we walk together we pray together.”
Tveit said, “This is a unique opportunity to share our gifts of fellowship with one another and with all our churches around the world. The relationships locally and globally will not be the same after this event”.
“Therefore, we in the WCC are immensely grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis that he accepted our invitation to come to the WCC this year.”
The landmark 21 June visit is only the third by a pope to the WCC, and the first time that such an occasion was dedicated to visiting the council.
“It is possible to have a wider horizon than our own church or people, it is possible to share a vision based on our Christian faith that brings us together and makes us able to do a lot together for the world,” Tveit continued.
“One of the principles in the ecumenical movement, has been that we should do together what we can do together. Thus, it was easy to agree on a shared motto for this day of the pope visiting the World Council of Churches: ‘Walking, praying, and working together.’”
WCC’s 70th anniversary
As Pope Francis begins the fifth year of his papacy, the WCC is marking its 70th anniversary, and the pope’s visit will cap celebrations of the ecumenical legacy and renewal of its promise coinciding with a meeting of its Central Committee, a key WCC governing body.
Bishop Charles Morerod, bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg of the Roman Catholic Church said, “We have moved to a stage of mutual goodwill and the pope does not want us to rest on our laurels.”
Pope Francis will arrive in Geneva at 10:30 a.m. on 21 June after which he will pray and meet with the WCC.
Pope Francis will then hold a mass at the Palexpo convention centre in Geneva at 5:30 p.m. that day and the pontiff will leave Switzerland from nearby Geneva airport at 8 p.m.
Pope Paul VI visited the WCC in 1969 and, in 1984, a visit was welcomed from Pope John Paul II.
The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 120 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians, including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many united and independent churches.
While the bulk of the WCC's founding churches were European and North American, today most member churches are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific and there are now 348 member churches in the WCC.
The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, but it is a member of its Faith and Order Commission and other commissions, and it and cooperates with the council in many organizations.
The WCC works with Catholics on issues of peace and migration in many parts of the world.