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Pope Francis at the WCC. Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse-Tveit: “Signs of a new ecumenical spring”

"There are many signs that could be defined as heralds of spring, understood as new initiatives based on mutual cooperation, in the community and in personal relations. In this sense it can be said that signs of an ecumenical spring, despite some lights and shadows, coincide with the visit. However, it should also be said that the ecumenical movement must be able to withstand all seasons”, even when there seem to be no results “it’s extremely important not to get discouraged and to persevere." Interview with the WCC Secretary General ahead of the visit of Pope Francis in Geneva

(from Geneva) “A great joy” characterises the atmosphere in the Geneva headquarters of the World Council of Churches. In a few days Pope Francis will be arriving in this district surrounded by greenery, not far from the airport and the Palexpo, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the WCC. It’s not the first time that a Pope visits the WCC, Paul VI was here in 1969, while John Paul II visited in 1984.
The WCC was built on the ashes of the Second World War inspired by the dream that the Churches could become a symbol of unity and reconciliation in a world devastated by hatred and annihilation. That dream continues to thrive. The progress made in the past 70 years reaped many fruits. Today the WCC represents 349 member Churches of world Christian denominations in 120 world Countries. Its members today include the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, Protestant churches and evangelical Protestant churches. It is estimated that the WCC represents over 560 million Christians worldwide. A familiar atmosphere is perceivable in the offices and corridors of the WCC headquarters. Despite the constant language-switch – from English to French, to German – everyone feels at home. Photos, crosses, icons, works of art from world countries – Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific – are present in all rooms. It signals not only a global presence but also a historical commitment to address the great challenges faced by contemporary humanity, ranging from armed conflicts to humanitarian emergencies. We met Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse-Tveit, WCC Secretary General ahead of Pope Francis’ visit.

What does the Pope’s presence here in Geneva mean to you?

The fact that Pope Francis has accepted our invitation to participate in the Ecumenical Council of Churches, in the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary, is a great joy for us. He will be arriving on the day of our Central Committee meeting with member Churches. I consider this visit extremely significant, at a time when we will be celebrating the results achieved so far by the WCC, working together for unity and to strengthen relations between Churches. The Pope will have the opportunity of witnessing our activity in person.

His presence among us also testifies to the existence of a global ecumenical movement,

which the Catholic Church actively participates in, highlighting our common experiences of unity, and the new expressions of our activities for purposes of justice and peace, for the spread of the Gospel worldwide.

The Pope will be arriving on June 21, which is also the last day of spring. Would it be right to say that the ecumenical movement is entering a new ecumenical spring?

There are many signs that could be defined as heralds of spring, understood as new initiatives based on mutual cooperation, in the community and in personal relations alike. In this sense it could be said that despite some lights and shadows signs of an ecumenical spring coincide with the visit. But it should also be said that the ecumenical movement must be able to withstand all seasons. For sometimes we reap the fruits, other times we fail to see the results, at least not in the short run …. but also in those moments,

it’s very important not to get discouraged and to persevere.

Even before world crises, more common initiatives should be carried out in terms of multilateral cooperation to solve the problems humanity is facing, initiatives against crime, for peace, for economic justice, etc. Polarised forces divide the world … It’s true. We can do more together. But we must persevere and move on, we must not surrender.

Last week the Joint Working Committee formed by the Holy See and the WCC held a meeting in Romania. The items on the agenda included the question of migrants and refugees. As you know, right now Italy is facing a major controversy on this issue. There are those who demand to close ports to stranded migrants at sea while others are calling for reception. What is the voice of the Churches on this matter?

In Europe all Churches speak with a single, strong voice on this issue, which encompasses the voice of Pope Francis. This voice says that when people are forced to leave their homes as a result of wars or political persecution, it is our responsibility as Christians to offer them protection, to give them a safe place to stay until they can make a safe return to their homes… This principle is also enshrined in international Conventions ratified after the Second World War. It is imperative that all Europeans – including the Hungarians, for example – give shelter to these refugees whenever they need it. We cannot say: they are not European refugees so we have no responsibility towards them …. They are human beings …

They are human beings regardless of their continent of departure.

So it’s important that the Church has a clear voice on this issue, including the Catholic Church … We are working on this together. In fact we are planning a joint Conference in the Vatican next September.

As you know people expect you to carry out concrete initiatives on peace, on the stuation of migrants and refugees, in the light of the Papal visit. Are you planning initiatives for migrants? We have been working on this subject. The Conference scheduled to take place in September in Rome on populism and xenophobia, which includes the theme of migratory inflows, is one such example. A set of peace initiatives are in the pipeline… We have promoted a dialogue panel on specific issues, at local and international level; themes include the problematic situations of South Sudan, Nigeria, Korea, etc. This is already being done. In any case the Papal visit is a strong incentive to step up joint efforts on these issues. In these kinds of meetings it’s not a matter of “negotiating” something. It’s not our objective.

First of all, we want to listen to the Pope’s words on these themes, and his views on the relations between the Catholic Church and Ecumenical Council of Churches,

We also wish to express our views on these problems and on our mutual cooperation, expressing it with our prayers as well as in our discussion panels.

Are you expecting specific words from the Pope? The Catholic Church is not a member of the Ecumenical Council of Churches. Do you think that the Pope will propose to become a member? This is a theme we have not addressed in the preparations of the meeting. We spoke about the best ways to convey our mutual cooperation and to discuss future projects…. The membership of the Catholic Church to the Ecumenical Council of Churches in not an item on the agenda of the meeting.

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