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The weekend meeting of Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople holds significance for global churches and the ecumenical movement beyond the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Referring to the text of the Common Declaration issued by the two church leaders on Sunday, 25 May, Tveit pointed to their confirmation of the call to church unity, the importance of their meeting in Jerusalem and the Holy Land and their shared conviction that we are all on our way as pilgrims together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace.

In their common declaration Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew pledged to continue on the path toward unity between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. “Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey towards the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity,” the document said.

“It is important that the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople met to confirm this calling of the church toward unity just as their predecessors did 50 years ago,” Tveit said. “And that this is viewed as a necessary step toward communion in ‘legitimate diversity.’”

“The need for and understanding of respectful diversity within the church was confirmed at our 10th Assembly in October last year, where both Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders were present together with representatives of all the WCC member churches and beyond,” Tveit said.  “To hear this directly from them adds to the inspiration we experienced at the assembly.”

The document also pointed toward the importance of their having met in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the significance of this fact for churches in the region of the Middle East.  The two leaders said, “We express our shared profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain full citizens of their homelands. In trust we turn to the almighty and merciful God in a prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East in general.”

“Their meeting in Jerusalem this past weekend and their joint prayer is a strong sign of commitment to justice and peace for all people in the region. It strengthens the church in the region, even while the church continues to struggle under pressure of conflict in the region, suffering under occupation, as with the Christians in Palestine, and regional economic hardship,” Tveit said.

Tveit also expressed hope in the two leaders’ declaration concerning the role of inter-religious dialogue. “This is of vital importance to our entire fellowship of churches, whether they are a religious majority or religious minority in their societies,” Tveit said. “This dialogue is of particular importance in a setting such as the Middle East.”

Tveit said the meeting of the two church leaders “is a sign of hope and inspiration for churches around the world as our unity, even in diversity, allows the church to move together on its common pilgrimage of justice and peace.”

The WCC is a global fellowship of 345 churches including nearly all of the world’s Orthodox churches as well as Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Reformed Churches. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was one of the founding members of the WCC in 1948, and as early as 1920 had invited all Christian churches to form together a League of Churches similar to the League of Nations. Through its member churches the WCC represents more than 560 million Christians in more than 100 countries around the world.

While the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, the two work formally in close cooperation on projects related to Christian unity, common witness, inter-religious dialogue and relations, ecumenical formation, human rights, migration and peace and justice.

Full text of Joint Declaration by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis

Cooperation between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church

WCC member churches in the Middle East