Positive meeting between Pope and ecumenical leader

Pope Francis and Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, met last Friday to discuss new opportunities for Christian unity.

The Pope described the meeting as marking "an important chapter in the long and fruitful relationship between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches".

Praising the WCC's commitment to unity, the Pope said "Since its creation, the World Council of Churches has offered a great contribution to forming the sensibility of all Christians with regard to the fact that our divisions represent a major obstacle to our witness to the Gospel in the world."

Stressing the centrality of unity to the Christian message and beating back scepticism, the Pope said: "These divisions must not be accepted with resignation, as if they were simply an inevitable component of the historic experience of the Church.

"If Christians ignore the Lord's call to unity, they risk ignoring the Lord Himself and the salvation He offers."

On the agenda for their talks were issues of economic justice and support for an end to violence. Particular areas of focus included the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, peace on the Korean peninsula, and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Dr Tveit praised Pope Francis for his continuing work in ministering to the poor and his efforts towards peace in Syria.

He was particually supportive of the Pope's recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, saying: "The WCC rejoices that the call to work for justice and peace, in deep Christian solidarity and for the benefit of all human beings, is seen as a gospel imperative by so many parts of the Christian family."

Speaking about the Pope's plans to visit Jerusalem to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Barholomew I of the Eastern Orthodox Communion, Dr Tveit said: "We heartily appreciate that you are going there as a pilgrim at a time urgently calling for a sustainable conclusion to the peace process."

Outlining his vision for peace in the Middle East, Dr Tveit said: "We know that religion and faith play a significant role in the conflict in what should be a city of peace.

"We believe that only a peace with justice, with a shared city of three religions and Israel and Palestine as two independent states, can there be an end to the occupation and the violence in this region."

Speaking to Vatican Radio after the meeting, Dr Tveit said they shared the same perspectives and the same spirit.

Discussing other specific policies, Dr Tveit elaborated on the ongoing Korean situation, "We are working on another meeting between participants from North and South Korea, to happen in Geneva before the summer... I'm going to visit South Korea in April to discuss this."

Describing these talks, Dr Tveit spoke about the importance of Christian uniqueness, "It's very important for us to see how the Churches can bring another vision on how things can change."

He added that there was pressure for things to go well, "The expectations from the Korean Churches are quite significant."

Speaking about collective action on climate change, Dr Tveit said it was time to call other religious leaders to a summit on it, to coincide with the UN-led meeting of heads of state in New York in September. 

Talking about how more unity might be accomplished, Pope Francis said: "Prayer is fundamental on this path. Only in a spirit of humble and persistent prayer can we attain the necessary farsightedness, discernment and motivations for offering our service to the human family, in all its weakness and with all its needs, both spiritual and material.

"The way to full and visible communion is a path which still proves today to be arduous and uphill. The Spirit, however, urges us not to be afraid, to go ahead with trust, and not to content ourselves with the progress that we have been able to experience in these decades."

Speaking about the future for the current generation of Christians, Dr Tveit said, "I believe that in our time God is opening new ways for us to unity, and for how the world can see our communion in Christ, particularly in the ways we can serve the world together."