The theme “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity” is an expression of faith and hope in God’s reign as the ultimate destination of creation and humanity facing together today the threat of their survival. 

A key word in the theme is “love”. But does it make sense to use the word “love” in the theme of an international ecumenical assembly today? Isn’t it a word that is used so much, so widely, and in so many different senses, so much so that because it says too much it ends up saying little… or nothing?

My answer is “yes”, it does make sense to speak of love and of “Christ’s love” in today’s world. I would even add that we have very intentionally placed this word at the centre of the next assembly’s theme. Why? Basically for two reasons.  

1. First, because a World Council of Churches’ assembly theme is always about Christian mission, witness and unity in prophetic dialogue with the spirit of a certain time. The theme of the first WCC assembly, held in in the Netherlands three years after the end of World War II, is a good example: “Man’s Disorder and God’s Design”. It was a timely call to the churches to covenant against war, destruction, and for justice, peace and unity.

In the same way, there is something very timely about the theme of the next assembly. When hate speech is normalized in human communication through social networks; when xenophobia and racism are nurtured by national populisms and their politics of fear; when many are the poor who face the consequences of the climate emergency catalyzed by the life style of a few who are rich, it does make sense to call Christians and churches from around the world to re-envision prophetically their apostolate, their mission, witness and unity in relation to love, in relation to Christ’s love today.  

2. Second, because our meditation on Christ’s love will bring “radicality” to the assembly’s reflection on mission, witness and unity in prophetic dialogue with the spirit of our time. Each day of the assembly will begin and will be nurtured by morning prayer and biblical meditation that will illustrate what the author of the first gospel says about Jesus: “…When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them”. In the original Greek, “to have compassion”, means “to be touched in one’s guts” by the situation of those who are “harassed and helpless”, those who are on the margins (Mat. 9:35).

Morning prayers centred on Jesus’ compassion will provide a spiritual framework first for plenary sessions which will address theologically the dignity of creation, the wholeness of life, human dignity and our search for visible unity in eucharistic fellowship. They will also frame home groups that will appropriate the inspiration of morning prayers and the challenges of the plenaries and relate them to the personal life and the church contexts of participants.  

Jesus’ acts of compassion led to his passion on the cross. The disciples’ memory of Jesus’ compassion led also Saint Paul to write to Christians in Corinth that Christ’s loves urged them to engage in the ministry of reconciliation, that Christ’s love moved them and the world to reconciliation and unity (2 Cor. 5:14-19).   

As the assembly gathers to reflect on the churches’ mission, witness and unity in prophetic dialogue with the spirit of our time, Jesus’ compassion for stigmatized minorities, for those for whom little compassion is visible today, will challenge us and our churches to metanonia, to the renewal of our minds and hearts so that we may become in tomorrow’s world a countercultural force driven by solidarity with the most vulnerable towards the survival of God’s  creation, for which so many young people are anxiously struggling today in Germany and in many parts of the world.

In this way, churches will be challenged to seek to overcome their divisions through an “ecumenism of the heart”, i.e., an ecumenism in which we look at the other churches first of all with the eyes of communion in the love of the compassionate Jesus; with the eyes of common commitment to God’s kingdom; and only within the solid foundation of that unity in Christ will they look at what separates them from other churches in matters of ethics or faith.             

Please pray, support and attend the next assembly of the World Council of Churches. Please engage your communities in the reflection on the assembly’s theme. Thank you.